In Mike Aresco’s tenure as a conference commissioner, turmoil has been the norm.
The former CBS executive vice president took over as commissioner of the Big East last August, just in time to deal with the fallout of Syracuse and Pitt leaving for the ACC, Notre Dame’s decision to follow them south, Rutgers and Louisville beating UConn and Cincinnati out the door, and the Catholic 7 splitting from the conference the form their own brand-new, basketball-centric league.
Which, of course, they wanted to call the Big East.
So in the midst of watching teams sprint from the conference like freshmen from a house party when the cops show up, Aresco not only had to work out a television rights deal while figuring out how to keep the league from being a season-long punchline, he literally had to go back to square one: he needed a name.
He had been a conference commissioner for less than eight months at that point. Talk about being thrown into the fire.
“We didn’t want to be called the No Name Conference. We didn’t want to be called The Conference To Be Named Later,” Aresco told NBCSports.com. “We knew that to remain viable, we needed the name fairly soon.”
Once the name — American Athletic Conference — was officially decided upon, the next step was developing a logo, a trademarked patch that would start to build the brand of a league that completely redefining itself; the new Big East may have taken the name and Madison Square Garden, but the AAC is actually the old Big East.
That process was a success, as the American’s logo seems to be the one thing that everyone on twitter didn’t hate, but it was also a bit more complicated.
Aresco reached out to a former CBS colleague named Leslie Ann Wade who had assembled a group that had been doing work on branding corporate logos. That group had contributed to the conference as a consultant on the PR front, so Aresco asked them to develop something, and they came up with the A with a star in the middle of it.
The decision-makers in the AAC offices loved it, but that was only the first step. They had to see what league members thought of it without allowing the logo to leak.
“We had to protect it,” Aresco said. “We couldn’t let anyone see it because we had to trademark it.”
That created a problem, because Aresco wanted to make sure that his conference member’s athletes and administrators all were fans of the logo he had developed. “We’ve got to make sure we have buy-in,” he said.
So what the AAC did was fly around the country to each of the member institutions, inviting a sampling of everyone involved with the school’s athletic department — presidents, ADs, coaches, athletes from revenue sports, athletes from Olympic sports — to get their feedback. The support was overwhelming.
Now that Aresco had a logo, he could actually get to work on turning the league into the powerhouse he believes it can be. Things like ensuring that all of the league’s basketball games will be aired on a national platform, whether it be ESPN, ESPN3 or CBS Sports Network. Or taking the time to talk to reporters to push support for his conference.
That may not be the most glorious part of his job, but it’s certainly better than trying to figure out who is trying to jettison themselves from the conference.
“If you ask me how it’s going compared to eight or nine months ago, it’s going extremely well,” he said. “We’re rejuvenated. We’re optimistic.”
“It’s been tough. We went through a period of real instability where we weren’t sure what we would have. We weren’t sure that we’d be here.”
Thursday marked the official beginning of the AAC as a conference, as three league members began their football seasons on opening night.
As it turns out, that’s anything but a chance for Aresco to slow down.
Two of the three AAC teams in action lost last night, with UConn losing to Towson at home (by 15!) and Rutgers dropping a road date with Fresno State in overtime.
Such is life when you’re trying to kickstart a rebranded league.