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North Texas athletics and five other programs accepted into American Athletic Conference

North Texas athletics and five other programs accepted into American Athletic Conference

North Texas athletics and five other programs accepted into American Athletic Conference
October 28
13:00 2021

After months of speculation, North Texas athletics has found a new conference to play under in the ever-changing college athletics picture. 

The American Athletic Conference announced last Thursday morning that the conference had approved six schools switching from Conference USA: the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Texas-San Antonio, Rice University, the University of Alabama-Birmingham and North Texas.

While no date has been set for when North Texas and the five other programs will begin play in the AAC, it is believed that the universities will begin no later than 2023. 

The switch marks the second conference move in under 10 years for North Texas after moving to C-USA from the Sun Belt Conference in 2013. In the Mean Green’s time in C-USA, the university accrued 8 titles (not including regular-season championships) in six different sports. 

North Texas President Neal Smatresk said that the conference change benefits the entire university, not just the athletic programs.

“Moving into the American Athletic Conference is a proud moment not only for our athletics program but for our entire university,” Smatresk said. “As UNT has grown and made numerous advances in our academic programs and research enterprise in recent years, elevating our athletics program into a more prestigious conference like The American is a natural progression.”

AAC was forced to search for new schools to join the conference after losing the University of Cincinnati, the University of Houston and the University of Central Florida to the Big 12 Conference. With a 3-team gap needing to be filled, AAC doubled what the conference needed. 

Commissioner of the AAC Mike Aresco said that the six schools selected, which will extend the conference to 14 members, will improve the landscape of the conference. 

“We are adding excellent institutions that are established in major cities and have invested in competing at the highest level,” Aresco said. “We have enhanced geographical concentration which will especially help the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball and Olympic sports teams.”

Aresco continued to say that the media deals that the AAC possesses will continue to exist with the addition of the six new teams. Striking a lucrative deal in 2019 with sports media giant, ESPN, the AAC offers new and better opportunities for new members.

“We will continue to provide valuable inventory to our major media rights partner, ESPN, which will feature our members on the most prominent platforms in sports media,” Aresco said. “ Additionally, we increase the value in live content options for CBS Sports, which features selected men’s basketball games on CBS Sports.”

Joining the AAC marks the first time that the university shares a conference with their Dallas rival, Southern Methodist University. The teams have played each other 41 times since 1922, and tensions are often high, as a recent tweet from the SMU Football account referred to the Mean Green as “that team from Denton.”

While Athletic Director Wren Baker could not “speak to the relationship historically” between SMU and North Texas, he did emphasize that he and SMU Athletic Director Rick Hart have had an amicable relationship.

“Rick [Hart] and I have had a great relationship,” Baker said. “Coach [Sonny] Dykes and Seth [Littrell] have a great relationship, there’s a very healthy respect between the institutions, I respect the progress they’ve made and I know they respect the progress we’ve made.”

The AAC’s move comes as the landscape of college football is changing following last summer’s news that the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma would be departing from the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference.

Since last Thursday’s AAC announcement, Southern Mississippi University accepted a bid to the Sun Belt Conference, with Marshall University and Old Dominion University still deciding whether to join Southern Miss there. If all three universities exit C-USA, only five teams would still remain in the conference. 

Featured Image: Sophomore quarterback Jace Ruder prepares to pass the ball against Northwestern State on Sept. 4, 2021. Photo by Zachary Thomas

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

fall sports editor

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