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Aresco: AAC is positioning itself to thrive

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published September 22. 2013 4:00AM

East Hartford - Mike Aresco feels good about the state of the American Athletic Conference.

That was at the heart of the AAC commissioner's wide-ranging conversation during a meeting with the media Saturday prior to the start of the UConn-Michigan football game at Rentschler Field.

Aresco's optimism is off the charts compared to last fall when the conference realignment storm had yet to fully pass and things still looked unstable.

He's predicting great things for the future of the AAC, which kicked off its inaugural season this fall.

"The last 10 months have been pretty interesting," Aresco said. "We're in a pretty good place with the conference and very optimistic about the future."

UConn is a key player in the 10-team league that also includes Louisville, Houston, Rutgers, SMU, Central Florida, South Florida, Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple. And its football program is at a crossroads, according to Aresco.

UConn is heading toward its third straight losing season. A good performance against 15th-ranked Michigan on Saturday would provide a boost for the reputation of the program and conference.

Aresco's confident that UConn will stabilize its program and grow along with the rest of the league. He has faith in the future of AAC football overall.

"This is a crossroads period for UConn, obviously," Aresco said. "They'll build a program, no doubt about it. When teams used to join the old Big East, they elevated their programs. That's going to happen in this league.

"I've talked to people who felt, and still feel, this league has a chance to be a better football league ultimately than the old Big East. This is going to be a very competitive football conference. I don't think there's any doubt about it."

Aresco is excited about the postseason possibilities for the AAC. He stated the conference is creating its own bowl game in Miami but didn't go into detail.

"We will be announcing our bowl game in Miami," Aresco said. "We're getting it finished. That's going to happen. That's a great thing for this conference."

The AAC will also have in the range of seven tie-ins a year, he added. Nothing has been finalized yet.

The AAC champion will have options where it will play, according to Aresco.

"We've tried to keep flexibility where we send our champion if that champion doesn't go to the college football playoff," Aresco said. "We want to have a range of bowls where we can potentially find a good team for that champion to play."

AAC men's basketball is starting off with a more stable foundation. Defending national champion Louisville, UConn, Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati all are quality programs. SMU and Houston are on the rise.

"We're a power conference in basketball, pure and simple," Aresco said. "It's going to be a good basketball conference right out of the gate. People might have overlooked that a little bit."

Aresco also addressed the matter of conference basketball tournament hosts.

Memphis will hold the first men's tournament next March. The conference holds an option for the following year. The Prudential Center in Newark and XL Center in Hartford have expressed an interest in serving as hosts.

He added that the Mohegan Sun could be the women's basketball conference tournament host for more than one year.

"Connecticut is really important to women's basketball," Aresco said. "Mohegan could well be a long-term site. But XL wants to get back into the picture potentially. Mohegan is the right size and the women are excited about going there. We think we'll have good attendance."

g.keefe@theday.com

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