American Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco Announces Retirement
Mike Aresco, the American Athletic Conference’s only commissioner in the league’s 11-year history, has announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2023-24 academic year.
Aresco was named as the fourth commissioner of the Big East Conference in 2012 and oversaw the reconstitution of the organization into the American Athletic Conference, a highly successful league that has produced four NCAA championship teams, a College Football Playoff semifinalist, four New Year’s Six bowl champions, two NCAA Men’s Final Four teams and six Women’s Final Four teams in its first decade.
Aresco has navigated The American through a period of near-constant change in intercollegiate athletics, taking a conference that initially lacked so much as a name and developing it into a national leader in competitiveness, student-athlete wellness, fiscal management, administration and branding.
“Mike Aresco has been a strong, steady, and innovative commissioner for the American Athletic Conference since its inception,” said East Carolina University Chancellor Philip Rogers, Chair of The American’s Board of Directors. “We are all grateful for his distinguished service to the conference. There is no question that he will leave the AAC well-positioned for future success due to his strategic approach to navigating the complex landscape of intercollegiate athletics. More importantly, though, he led with deep character and integrity and we will miss him dearly in this role. My colleagues and I wish Mike and his family the very best in this new phase of life.”
“It has been the supreme privilege of my long career in sports to have had the opportunity to lead this great conference from its reinvention in 2013, and to represent its outstanding student-athletes, coaches and administrators,” said Aresco. “I am grateful to the Board of Directors for giving me this opportunity to serve. It would take many pages to list this conference’s numerous athletic and academic accomplishments. There have also been some disappointments and difficulties along the way, most notably, the P5-G5 divide, realignment, College Football Playoff access for our deserving teams, and some competitive heartbreak in big games. But these have not affected in any way my enthusiasm in leading this terrific and resilient conference or my optimism for its long-term future. I would like to thank everyone associated with this conference for their significant contributions, and also my friends and colleagues in the college community, for their goodwill and concern for the greater good of the collegiate enterprise.”
If there is an overall theme to Aresco’s time as commissioner, it has been a steadfast refusal to accept limits on what the conference could achieve. Tabbed in 2013 by The New York Times as, “perhaps the most optimistic man in sports,” Aresco has been a tireless advocate for the conference at the highest level of college athletics from the league’s first days. He championed institutional investment among league members and leveraged the league’s major markets and media rights agreements to showcase some of the nation’s top teams and players.
His foresight was validated as The American made headlines right away. UCF topped Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl to cap the 2013 football season and UConn won NCAA titles in both men’s and women’s basketball in 2014. In the years that followed, just about every conference school could point to a signature moment or era under The American’s banner that would rank among the best in that school’s history. By 2016, The American was a finalist for Sports Business Journal’s Sports League of the Year Award, along with Major League Baseball, the NBA, NASCAR, the PGA Tour and Major League Soccer. In 2018, the formation of The American was cited by Sports Illustrated as one of the best decisions in college football in the previous 10 years.
Aresco secured two monumental media rights agreements with ESPN. The first, which took effect in 2014, ensured that The American would have prominent and consistent exposure on the industry leader in sports television - a key development in the growth of the newly rebranded conference. The second deal, executed in 2019, is a landmark agreement for the conference that provides financial stability for the membership for the next decade, continues The American’s regular presence on ESPN’s linear platforms, and is groundbreaking in its approach to high-level production on the network’s streaming service. The conference’s strong relationship with ESPN has led to nine consecutive seasons in which The American’s football championship game has been televised by ABC.
In many ways, The American’s success brought about more change in the national landscape. UCF, Cincinnati and Houston, all of which scored New Year’s Six and NCAA men’s basketball tournament wins under The American’s banner, were courted by the Big 12, while SMU is playing its final season in The American this season before joining the ACC. Aresco negotiated fair and sensible separation agreements with the departing members, but more importantly, orchestrated a strategic expansion of his own by adding six like-minded universities (UAB, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UTSA) to further concentrate The American’s presence in key cities and regions. He then announced the recent addition of Army West Point as a football-playing member of the conference beginning in 2024, bringing a legendary football program to the membership and giving the conference two of the nation’s service academies.
Aresco has been a prominent leader within the College Football Playoff and was instrumental in ensuring that all 10 FBS conferences would have an annual opportunity to challenge for a New Year’s Six bowl bid - a move that paid off for The American with seven New Year’s Six bowls in the first nine years of the system. His advocacy on behalf of The American, and the league’s sustained success on the national stage, played a key role in the expansion of the Playoff to 12 teams, including automatic bids for six league champions, beginning with the 2024 season.
Aresco served in a leadership role on a number of College Football Playoff committees, including the strategic planning, television and site selection committees and more recently, the committee to select the organization’s next executive director. He additionally was the immediate past chair of the College Commissioners Association and played a key role in the NCAA governance restructuring process of 2014.
Away from the competitive arena, Aresco has established The American as a leader in the area of student-athlete wellness, both through the adoption of NCAA autonomous legislation on matters including full cost of attendance and nutrition. The conference, in conjunction with its Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has also launched the Powerful Minds campaign to improve awareness and education on mental health issues and recognize the scholarly achievements of the conference’s student-athletes.
There have been many other innovations and accomplishments through the years - among them, the introduction of a conference-owned-and-operated bowl game, which became a valuable asset for ESPN’s emerging events division; the relocation of the conference headquarters to Irving, Texas, to better connect the league office with its member schools; establishing the state-of-the-art Dickies Arena in Fort Worth as the home of the conference’s men’s and women’s basketball championships; and launching the conference’s Racial Equality Action Group, which provided the foundation for The American’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Aresco will remain as The American’s commissioner through May 31.