The American Athletic Conference has received applications from six schools hoping to join the conference, and the AAC is expected to send them each a formal letter by the end of the week detailing the terms of expansion, a source with knowledge of the process told ESPN on Tuesday.
Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, UTSA, Rice and UAB have each officially requested to join the AAC, a move that was first reported by Yahoo Sports on Monday. It's the first step in the realignment process, which is expected to move quickly this week after the university presidents and their general counsels have time to review the terms.
The AAC's desire to expand comes after Cincinnati, UCF and Houston decided this fall to eventually join the Big 12. UConn also left after the 2019 season. The addition of six more schools would expand the AAC to a 14-team conference in football and basketball while crippling Conference USA, where all of the schools currently call home.
According to the source, the earliest they could join the conference would be the 2023-24 season, but it depends on what the AAC works out with the schools that are leaving. AAC bylaws require schools to give a 27-month notice before they leave and pay a $10 million buyout fee.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco told ESPN in mid-September that the league would be willing to negotiate an earlier exit fee to accommodate the departures of UCF, Cincinnati and Houston. If those three schools abided by the bylaws, Aresco said, their exit date would be July 1, 2024.
Another source told ESPN that while there hasn't been a formal declaration of a timeline, there's a sense within the AAC that Cincinnati, UCF and Houston would like to join the Big 12 for the 2023 season if possible. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby did not immediately return a request for comment.
Instead of viewing the AAC's expansion as replacing the schools that are leaving, the source said it's more of a strategic move to grow the league, which will help protect it from future attrition, while also create some regionalization that can help with divisions, and prevent teams from having to travel through more than one time zone.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN on Wednesday "it's not known at the present time" when UCF, Cincinnati and Houston will join.
"I'm just referring to the letters that they sent to us," Bowlsby said. "Accepting membership, and in the case of those three, they've all said not later than July 1 '24. And that doesn't mean that they wouldn't try and come earlier than that, but it won't be won't be later than that."
Considering Oklahoma and Texas both said they weren't leaving to join the SEC until July 1, 2025, there's a possibility the Big 12 could temporarily expand to a 14-team conference.
"We'll just put together 14 team schedules," Bowlsby said when asked how the league would handle the overlap. "And we'll likely play divisions in most sports, and then when they leave in '25 we'll fall back to 12, or make decisions at that point in time. Three and a half years a long time so we won't know exactly whether we would take additional members, or stay at 12, but there will be a subsequent process that we'll go through."