Charlotte, along with FAU, Rice, UAB, UNT and UTSA are heading to the AAC

Pete Thamel, National College football and basketball reporter for Yahoo Sports, broke the news at 7pm yesterday.

Here’s Thamel’s article detailing the news: https://sports.yahoo.com/sources-the-aac-close-to-massive-6-school-expansion-to-reshape-conference-014015069.html

As I’m writing this piece, Brett McMurphy from Action dropped this article, which mentions the 6 teams have hopes of playing in the AAC in 2023: https://www.actionnetwork.com/ncaaf/aac-to-add-six-schools-conference-usa-college-football-realignment-charlotte-fau-north-texas-rice-uab-utsa

Another update while writing this, applications are starting to roll in from the six Conference USA schools, per Pete Thamel:

Key takeaways from his article

Make no mistake, this adds teams that were certainly of interest to the AAC at the start, but also serves as a preemptive thwart to the Mountain West Conference’s perceived plan to get into Texas.

The AAC’s move comes on the heels of a thwarted effort to lure four Mountain West schools into the league. While the AAC never technically offered Boise State, Air Force, Colorado State and San Diego State, there was an extended courtship that was followed by a vocal commitment to staying in the Mountain West Conference. This move would limit the ability of the Mountain West to enter Texas, as it gives the AAC four schools in the state and no obvious options for the Mountain West to add.

Now for the financial side of the picture..

Conference USA schools currently receive less than $1 million annually in television revenue. The amount they will receive is still being finalized, but the television revenue will be more than $2 million at the start of the deal and rise significantly from there. Incumbent AAC members are still expected to average about $7 million annually over the course of the current ESPN television deal, which runs through 2031-32.

The exit fee for the six schools expected to depart is roughly $3 million per school, which will give Conference USA a nice nest egg to build on when the schools leave.

The TV monies, and perhaps more importantly, exposure for Charlotte will skyrocket with the move to the AAC. Goodbye games on Facebook! Also gone will be the days of olympic sports being hidden on CUSA.tv. I fully welcome ESPN3/ESPN+ for all things, just a much better methodology to capture casual fans to watch a CLT game.

It appears that Wichita State and Tulsa each paid $2.5 million to enter the AAC last go round, so its conceivable that Charlotte and others will be in that range. If so, that’s roughly $5.5 million to leave CUSA and enter AAC, in which Charlotte will start out with more than $2 million per year in TV money that will “rise significantly”, which means the move those fees will be recouped in as little as 3 years. Well worth it to this Charlotte fan.

The biggest item for Charlotte from a facilities standpoint is clearly the size of Jerry Richardson Stadium, which currently seats 15,314. The AAC isn’t going to want that, which I think we’ve all understood for some time. That leads us to the Athletics Facilities Master Plan… Will that be announced simultaneously with the move to the AAC? There wouldn’t be a better time imaginable to drop it, in my opinion. State we’re were going from a conference standpoint and then show where we’re going fron an investment standpoint. I think it’s safe to say the plan is going to touch many venues on campus, but for the sake of this move 2 things are key: expansion and an indoor practice facility.

Here you can see the original mockup of the stadium if expanded to 40,000 seats. Clearly we don’t need to go to 40,000, but I think you’ll see us in the 30-35,000 range to fall in line with other existing AAC programs. Also this in no way represents what current expansion plans may look like.

Original mockup of expansion to 40,000 seats

If we’re to trust Brett McMurphy’s timeline of 2023, that will give Charlotte about 1 and 1/2 years to get expansion in place, which means things have to get going ASAP if we’re going to enter with an expanded stadium. Can’t imagine it takes long for these wheels to begin spinning publicly.

Next hurdle

After facilities Charlotte will have some ground to make up on the budget side to better align to what the reamining AAC schools are spending. It’s unknown what kind of requirements the AAC will put in place for the incoming programs from CUSA, but currently ECU has the lowest total expenses at $52,745,339 for the 2019-2020 year. During that timeframe Charlotte was at $39,01,0853. While it won’t be an overnight change, with the continuing growth of the university’s enrollment (equates to more dollars via student fees) and record growth in the 49er Club (each year under Mike Hill this club has set a new annual record for giving), Charlotte is well-positioned to close this gap. When you also incorporate increased payouts due to the TV deal, increased NCAA credits from joining a multi-bid basketball league, it’s not as improbable as one might thing to be really close to ECU’s level come 2023, in my opinion.

Here’s a look at data from USA Today and their list of NCAA Finances for 2019-20:

USA Today’s database does not contain information for all AAC programs due to several being private institutions, but I don’t think it’s a safe assumption to look at ECU’s data as a baseline for the bottom of the league when you consider the top teams in the conference also had the top expenditures on an annual basis.

Here’s a look at Head Football Coach salaries per USA Today as well:

Conference Map

Credit to @houstonniner for the first iteration of this on Twitter, but I’ve added in Wichita State as well. In case you aren’t aware, Navy is football only and Wichita State is all sports except football.

Navy has been in the West previously, based on their desires, so we could potentially see AAC East be: Charlotte, ECU, FAU, USF, Temple, UAB & Memphis. That sounds pretty damn good to me, folks.

Stay tuned to see when Charlotte formally applies to the AAC, which is all but a formality at this juncture.

Future Football Scheduling implications

Charlotte and ECU have a 2 game home-and-home agreement in place for 2024 (in CLT) and 2025 (at ECU). Clearly this will have to go to the wayside and gives Charlotte the need for another FBS/G5 game in 2024 and 2025. It’s been discussed that Charlotte and App State admins would love to play regularly, but as of now App’s scheduled in 2024 is full, and the only current opening for 2025 is for their FCS game. Based on a quick recon of FBSchedules.com, UConn could work, as could Middle Tennessee or Southern Miss if we want to keep that alive as well.

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