Football Sports

AAC football media day covers COVID-19 guidelines, conference realignment

AAC File photo

The American Athletic Conference held a virtual football media day on Wednesday morning. | File photo

With the 2021 college football season on the horizon, the American Athletic Conference held its football media day virtually where student-athletes were informed about COVID-19 guidelines, Big 12 conference realignment and the expansion of the College Football Playoff.

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco opened up the event addressing some of the big topics from the offseason. Here are some of the major takeaways from media day in terms of the AAC as a whole:

COVID-19 guidelines

While the AAC cannot force its coaches and players to get the vaccine, Aresco is adamant that all of the conference’s student-athletes should get vaccinated.

“COVID is still with us and with (the) very contagious delta variant still (being) a potentially significant problem, it’s imperative that we vaccinate as many of our student-athletes as possible,” Aresco said. “We want everyone vaccinated.”

With the widespread availability and easy accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccine across the U.S., Aresco announced the AAC will not reschedule games as it did in 2020 if a team’s ability to compete is affected by COVID-19 related issues.

“We decided that we will not reschedule games this year,” Aresco said. “If a team cannot play because of COVID it will be considered a forfeit.”

In terms of COVID-19 testing of players, the AAC’s current plan is to continue to test unvaccinated players while vaccinated players will not have to be tested. Aresco said the conference’s medical team will meet next week and will adjust the protocols as necessary throughout the season.

Conference realignment

After the news that Texas and Oklahoma would leave the Big 12 in 2025 and join the SEC, the AAC was thrown under fire by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby.

According to a report by CBS Sports, Bowlsby claims ESPN conspired with the AAC to poach Big 12 teams in return for “future TV proceeds.”

Aresco denied these claims Wednesday morning, also claiming he has not reached out to any Big 12 schools recently.

“I want to emphasize we are not looking at realignment and we are not out there attempting to take teams,”  Aresco said. “Our conference has never strategically aligned or plotted with ESPN to influence conference structures. We wouldn’t do that and ESPN has never done that and would not do it.”

In the midst of all the chaos surrounding possible conference realignment, Aresco reaffirmed the AAC’s No. 1 priority is the same thing it has been for years: being granted the same autonomy that the Power Five conferences currently possess.

Aresco firmly believes the AAC success across all sports has proven that the conference is of elite status and they have earned a spot to join the Power Five conferences at the autonomy table.

“Our conference’s goal is to become an autonomy group member. We’ve never wavered in that goal,” Aresco said. “We’ve earned a seat at that autonomy table and gaining it will solidify our position as an elite conference.”

Support for CFP expansion

As the support for the expansion of the College Football Playoff has gained significant traction over the past few months, a 12-team playoff is one step closer to becoming reality — and Aresco could not be more excited.

After years of missing out on a CFP spot, specifically concerning 2017 and 2018 UCF teams and the 2020 Cincinnati team, a 12-team playoff would finally give the AAC a legitimate chance to have one or more of its teams competing on college football’s biggest stage.

“No one will ever convince that some of our teams could have competed and done really well (in the CFP) and even possibly won a national championship,” Aresco said. “We feel like the 12-team playoff creates opportunity and that, I think, is the key.”

Aresco, who called the recent CFP games “stale” because of the same teams competing year in and year out, believes a 12-team playoff will energize college football and boost the TV ratings for the sport as a whole because every FBS program would be treated equally.

If you only have a few teams that are likely to be in the four-team playoff, maybe fans tend to lose interest in their teams or in college football generally, Aresco said. And that’s obviously not a trend we want to embrace.

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