American Conference looking to upgrade hoops

It has gone from an idea to a discussion at the upper levels, but far from a serious plan, but it continues to be a prime topic of discussion at conference meetings.

According to several sources throughout the league, the American Athletic Conference is looking for a way to upgrade its rankings in basketball with an expansion blueprint focused primarily on Wichita State, but also including other higher profile basketball schools such as Dayton and Virginia Commonwealth.

Wichita's interest in moving out of the Missouri Valley Conference first became public last fall when there was chatter about the Shockers contacting the American as a possible landing place for football if plans to revive the football program were instituted. The school discontinued the football program because of financial reasons in 1986.

The Wichita State basketball program has filled the gap, establishing itself as a perennial power in the MVC.

But in December published reports stated that Wichita was the focus of the American's interest in upgrading its basketball profile. American officials downplayed the reports as nothing more than chatter.

But offiicials at some member schools, including UConn, felt that the American needed to increase its basketball profile. Talks about adding affiliated members in basketball, but not football, continued, reportedly with discussions taking place at the Presidential level.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

When contacted on Wenesday, American commissioner Mike Aresco, again downplayed the idea, saying the conference was always looking for ways to improve itself.

In the best of years, the American has quality teams such as UConn, Temple, Cincinnati, Memphis and Houston and Aresco has argued the conference has both quality and depth. But there are no real natural rivalries and the conference tournament has been moved from place to place, with varying degrees of interest and success.

This year's men's tournament is in Hartford, which would be a huge draw if UConn were a factor, but the Huskies right now are a marginal NIT team and could make an early exit from the conference tournament.

How any expansion plan would work and if it would work, is unclear. The American is a 12 team league in football with 11 full time members, plus Navy, which participates only in football.

Adding Wichita or another school would create an even balance of 12 teams. Schools such as Wichita, Dayton and VCU would definitely improve the American's basketball profile, but other than Wichita, which may have football (and American membership) on its wish list, it is difficult to see why schools such as Dayton or VCU would leave the Atlantic 10, which has had an equal or better ranking than the American the past few years.

UConn, which unsuccessfully flirted with the Big 12 and remains eager to move if a Power 5 conference decides to expand, reaffirmed its commitment to the American last month after rumors surfaced about the Huskies interest in returning to the Big East in all sports but football.

But UConn officials also made it clear that they would like to help the American develop in basketball as well as football and the idea of adding a school such as Wichita is receiving support from several conference schools.

Where it goes from here, remains unclear, but the topic of expansion seems likely to continue.[/membership]