Commissioner Mike Aresco talks American Athletic Conference Football, UC, Houston, expansion and rebuilding in a few years

Mike Aresco AAC Commissioner, talks to media on Zoom earlier last week (megasportsnews.com photo)
Mike Aresco Commissioner American Athletic Conference Talks AAC Football, Playoffs, Realignment. 11 2021.mp3

Mike Aresco is one of the leading figures in intercollegiate sports as commissioner of the American Athletic Conference.

Aresco was named as commissioner of the Big East Conference Aug. 14, 2012, and conducted a strategic reinvention of the conference, which became the American Athletic Conference, one of the premier conferences in the nation. He had his contract extended by The American’s Board of Directors in 2017 and received a second extension in 2021 that will be in effect through June of 2025.

American Athletic Conference teams have won four NCAA Championships and competed in five New Year’s Six/BCS bowl games, winning three, since the 2012-13 academic year. The American was named in 2016 as a finalist for the Sports Business Journal Sports League of the Year award, the only entity from college athletics to be so honored. The formation of the conference was named by Sports Illustrated in 2018 as one of the 10 best decisions of college football’s last 10 years.

Among the milestones reached during Aresco’s tenure have been the introduction of the American Athletic Conference Football Championship in 2015 and the launching of a dynamic Power 6 branding campaign, which aligns The American with its peer conferences and celebrates the competitive success that the conference has enjoyed at the highest level of collegiate competition.

Aresco additionally secured The American’s prominent place in intercollegiate athletics by brokering a landmark 12-year media rights partnership with ESPN in 2019, which will provide unprecedented revenue to member institutions while enhancing the conference’s exposure on the premier platforms in sports media.

Aresco has been a leader in the NCAA governance redesign efforts and a strong and articulate spokesman in various forums for the integrity of the collegiate experience.

The American’s inaugural year produced a remarkable string of accomplishments as UCF won the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll. UConn won NCAA titles in both men’s and women’s basketball as American Athletic Conference teams had the best postseason winning percentage of any conference in men’s basketball. 

The American was the only conference to have a Bowl Championship Series win and teams in the Men’s Final Four, the Women’s Final Four and the College World Series in 2013-14. Teams from the conference finished in the national top 10 in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s soccer, baseball and men’s golf.

The American, after having as many as five teams ranked in the Associated Press poll during the season, produced three teams in the final College Football Playoff poll of 2015, including Houston, which defeated Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl and finished No. 8 in the final national rankings with a 13-1 record. Navy, in its first year as a member of the conference, finished No. 18 nationally after a school-record 11 wins in 2015. UConn went on to win its fourth straight NCAA title in women’s basketball, while The American sent four teams to the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

In the 2017 football season, UCF stood alone as the nation’s only unbeaten team and was rated No. 1 nationally in the Colley Index after the Knights went 13-0, capped by a win against No. 7 Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. UCF joined Memphis and USF as The American’s three teams in the final Associated Press poll, while the Knights’ final ranking of No. 6 stood as the best in league history in the final poll. UCF’s Peach Bowl win punctuated a 3-1 bowl record for American teams against other Power 6 conference opponents.

The American had four football teams ranked in the final national polls of the 2019 season as Memphis, Cincinnati, Navy and UCF all finished in the top 25. Memphis finished with a program-record 12 wins, while Cincinnati and Navy both registered 11-win seasons, and UCF turned in its third consecutive season with double-digit victories.

Aresco’s first years as commissioner put The American on stable footing in an otherwise tenuous time in college athletics. He led negotiations for the young conference that resulted in television contracts with ESPN and CBS Sports, giving the league unprecedented national exposure and branding with the two industry leaders in sports television. Aresco organized the process to name the new conference and to create a graphic identity that was positively received across the country.

He has also successfully worked with the conference schools to arrive at an equitable distribution of existing revenue for the current and new conference institutions, bringing about a cohesiveness that has allowed the conference to grow and thrive. 

Among his other significant accomplishments on behalf of The American were the spearheading of expansion efforts, which resulted in the addition of ECU, Tulane and Tulsa as of July 1, 2014, Navy as a football member in 2015, and Wichita State as a non-football-playing member in 2017; launching the American Digital Network; successful site negotiations for the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball championships; development of The American’s broad-based strategic plan, and the launching of a multifaceted Power 6 brand marketing campaign.

More recently, the conference has partnered with the Atlantic Coast Conference on a football officiating alliance that allows both leagues to work collaboratively on a wide range of officiating matters, and has partnered with the Southeastern Conference on a men’s basketball scheduling alliance for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

Additionally, Aresco has brokered successful multi-year marketing rights agreements with Learfield IMG College, and oversaw the development of The American’s football bowl lineup, which features numerous annual matchups against the nation’s other top conferences.

In basketball, Aresco has secured the conference’s participation in an officiating consortium partnering with the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Sun Conference and the Sun Belt Conference to ensure that the highest-quality game officials are assigned to American Athletic Conference contests.

Aresco has played an active role in the formation of the College Football Playoff, serving on the College Football Playoff Management Committee and helping to select the 13 members of the CFP Selection Committee. Aresco also serves on the College Football Playoff Strategic Planning, Site Selection and Television committees and was the FBS conference chair from 2017-19.

Aresco is currently Executive Vice President of the Conference Commissioners Association and a member of the CCA’s National Letter of Intent Policy and Review Committee as well as the enforcement and women’s basketball working groups. He serves on the board of managers for both College Football Officiating, LLC, and Men’s College Basketball, LLC, serves on the CFO National Coordinator Search Committee, and is also a member of the FBS commissioners’ media subcommittee. He is a charter member of the steering committee of the Columbia University/New York City Chapter of the National Football Foundation and serves on the NFF’s screening committee. 
Aresco came to the conference from CBS Sports where he was Executive Vice President, Programming. He was responsible for all college sports programming for CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network. Aresco oversaw the acquisition and management of CBS Sports college properties, including the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, regular-season college football and basketball, conference basketball championship games, football bowl games and other programming. His responsibilities included game selection and scheduling, day-to-day operations, contract negotiations, identification of future acquisitions, development of programming strategies and coordination of new media and marketing initiatives.

Aresco played an integral role in the landmark deal that created the CBS Sports-Turner Broadcasting partnership, which resulted in the acquisition of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship rights through 2024. He managed the complex 14-year agreement that provides expanded national broadcast and cable coverage of the NCAA basketball championship. Aresco also was instrumental in the CBS Television Network’s groundbreaking bundled rights agreement with the NCAA, which granted CBS exclusive rights to the NCAA tournament from 2003 through 2010. The 2010 NCAA Championship won a Sports Emmy in the Outstanding Playoff Coverage category. He also was a significant contributor in the development of new media platforms for the NCAA Championship, including March Madness On Demand, a highly successful streaming platform.

In 2008, Aresco negotiated a historic 15-year agreement with the Southeastern Conference to televise the league’s football and basketball games. The agreement also provided multiple new media rights for CBS, CBS Sports Network and CBS Interactive. He forged numerous basketball agreements with major conferences and negotiated 10-year extensions of the Army-Navy and Notre Dame-Navy football rivalries.

Aresco was the creator and executive producer of The Tony Barnhart Show and Courtside with Seth Davis, both of which aired on the CBS Sports Network. In 2004, he was appointed by the late NCAA President Myles Brand to the Basketball Partnership, a select panel whose mission was to explore ways to improve and promote college basketball.

 Aresco joined CBS Sports from ESPN where he was responsible for overseeing the acquisition, scheduling and development of long-term strategies for all ESPN college sports properties. Earlier in his tenure at ESPN, he was responsible for programming a wide variety of sports properties, including College Football Association, Big Ten, and Pac-10 college football, NCAA events, including early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, the College World Series and various professional sports events, including thoroughbred racing, Top Rank Boxing, CFL football, Australian Rules Football, rodeo and yachting. He was the architect of ESPN’s signature Thursday night college football series and helped develop ESPN’s Bowl Week. He joined ESPN in 1984 as Counsel and was named Assistant General Counsel in 1988 before moving to the programming department.

Aresco is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Tufts University (B.A., magna cum laude, history), The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts (M.A., international relations), where he held a John Moors Cabot Scholarship, and the University of Connecticut School of Law (J.D.). He practiced law privately in Hartford, Connecticut, for several years.

Aresco has been a regular speaker and expert panelist at national symposiums and seminars on the topics of college athletics and sports television. He was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Graduate Award by the UConn School of Law Alumni Association and was elected to the Middletown (Connecticut) Sports Hall of Fame in January of 2015.

Aresco and his wife, Sharon, have two adult sons: Matthew, an Emmy-nominated television producer who lives in Connecticut with his wife, Elizabeth; and Brett, an actor who lives in New York City.

COURTESY THE AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

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