ECU Jolly Roger

The East Carolina Jolly Roger flies over Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The American Athletic Conference (AAC) will be having some new faces coming and going from the division in the next couple seasons, with three teams leaving and six joining between 2022 and 2023.

Among the schools leaving the conference, all three will be joining the Big 12 Conference in the summer of 2023. The University of Central Florida, the University of Houston and the University of Cincinnati will all exit the conference earlier than originally scheduled following a buyout agreement with the conference.

The 18 million dollar settlement, compounded with the 10 million dollar conference exit fee, allowed the schools that were originally slated to leave the conference no sooner than July 1, 2024, to join the Big 12 on July 1, 2023.

“Sad to see them go,” ECU’s women’s basketball head coach Kim McNeill said. “It definitely opens the door for some teams to move up.”

With the three schools exiting the conference, the AAC leaned into Conference USA to recoup members of the division. Of the six teams joining the American, all of them are former members of Conference USA. The University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), Rice University, Florida Atlantic University, the University of North Texas and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are all joining the conference.

The rebuild of the conference is not the first time that the AAC has taken members from Conference USA. In 2013, East Carolina University, Tulane University and the University of Tulsa joined the newly established AAC following its first season as a league.

“The American Conference doesn’t get enough credit,” McNeill said. “I don’t think we get enough credit for as much talent as we have in this league and the amount of great coaches that we have.”

The addition of the six new schools creates a full 14 school league and gives ECU something that it has never had before, an in-state rival. UNC Charlotte will be the second school in North Carolina to join the American since its inception in 2013 with ECU being the first.

In the school’s history, UNCC has had documented rivalries with Davidson University, Appalachian State University and Cincinnati. Between 1995 to 2005, Charlotte upset Cincinnati’s men’s basketball teams ranked No. 3, No. 8, No. 18 and No. 20 in the country. In more recent years, the basketball rivalry carried into Davidson with the App State rivalry being created through football.

In each conference that Charlotte has participated in, there has been one school that heated up tensions. Coach McNeill believes that the same will be true with ECU.

“I’m excited for them to come in so that we can create that rivalry even more,” McNeill said. “It also gives us an opportunity to have a bus trip in conference instead of flying all the time so I am excited for that rival.”

All schools joining the program except UTSA will be integrating into the American in 2022, joining one or two sport programs before every school becomes full members in 2023. The six former Conference USA schools will join the teams retained by the AAC.

The conference’s founding members in the University of Memphis, Southern Methodist University, University of South Florida and Temple University will remain with the program as well as the programs that joined later including ECU, Tulane and Tulsa.

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