Conference realignment is a cycle that always seems to repeat itself.
It doesn’t always have a predictable timetable, nor does it always make sense.
But when conferences shift, everything changes.
Which is why the NCAA was turned on its head when Big 12 behemoths Texas and Oklahoma formally made the move to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in July.
The first domino fell, forcing everyone else to respond.
The response from the rest of the NCAA: a survival of the fittest approach.
The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten and Pac-12 formed a vague scheduling alliance that’s nothing more than a desperate attempt to fend off the SEC’s quest for dominance.
After losing its top two programs to the SEC, the Big 12 added American Athletic Conference (AAC) powerhouses Cincinnati, Houston and UCF and independent contender BYU.
Now, the AAC must reload in order to survive.
The American has reportedly focused on a group of schools that includes Mountain West powers Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, San Diego State and Conference USA member University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.
While the conference has no geographic requirements, the AAC appears to be searching for schools out west to fill its missing spots.
But the American would be remiss not to consider eastern schools, like UB.
UB Athletics has been on the rise over the last five years, something that has extended to a majority of its programs.
The football team has won back-to-back bowl games and even notched a spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll last season.
Men’s basketball has qualified for the NCAA Tournament four times since 2015 was a staple in the AP Top 25 in 2018.
Women’s basketball has earned three tournament bids since 2016 and made it to the Sweet Sixteen a couple of years back.
Even programs like women’s soccer, swimming and diving and men’s and women’s tennis have enjoyed considerable success over the last few years.
UB has proven it is one of the premier schools in the MAC and that it can compete with any school in the American — whether it be those still in the conference or those rumored to join it.
As the largest public university in New York, UB would bring east coast fans to a conference with limited influence in this region. Sure, Buffalo isn’t the country’s largest market, but the school’s sphere of influence in the northeast (and even the midwest considering the school’s MAC ties) would make for a fine addition to the American.
If UB joins a couple of teams from the Mountain West in the American, the conference would have arguably the most well-rounded geographical landscape in collegiate athletics.
From UB’s perspective, joining the American is a no-brainer.
Sure, the competition isn’t much greater than the MAC — but the money and exposure is.
In 2014, the MAC signed a 13-year TV deal with ESPN worth over $100 million for football. Each school earns approximately $670,000 in football TV revenue per season. The MAC also inked a deal with CBS Sports Network to air football and basketball games through the 2022-23 season, with the network airing a maximum of 12 football and 12 basketball games annually.
By contrast, the AAC signed a 12-year, $1 billion contract with ESPN in 2019 to air football and men’s and women’s basketball games. AAC football coverage includes a minimum of 40 regular-season telecasts per season on ESPN’s national networks while men’s basketball includes a minimum of 65 games and women’s basketball includes a minimum of 13 games.
That pays AAC teams about $7 million each in annual TV revenue.
Simply put, the MAC just can’t compete with that level of money and exposure.
When looking at the landscape of Division I’s “Group of Five” conferences — the AAC, Conference USA, Mid-American (MAC), Mountain West (MW) and the Sun Belt — the American reigns supreme as a “super” Group of Five.
College football is growing, but the rich — the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and the Big 12 — are only getting richer.
If each conference continues to lose its top teams, some are bound to be disbanded. It happened to both the Southwest Conference and Big Eight in 1996.
As the Group of Fives enter an uncertain future, UB should leave the MAC and join the AAC if given the opportunity.
Everyone loves weeknight MACtion, but an offer from the AAC would be too good to pass up.
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor at The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found playing video games, watching ‘90s Knicks games and arguing with people on NBA Twitter at 3 a.m.