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AAC's Pernetti: There's room for growth amid CFP expansion

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New American Athletic Conference Commissioner Tim Pernetti said Thursday that College Football Playoff expansion is good for the sport and he believes there is room for more growth.

Pernetti, the former Rutgers athletic director and IMG executive, officially takes over for the retiring Mike Aresco in June.

In his first news conferences — both in-person and on a video conference — since being hired last week, the 53-year-old Pernetti said he wants the conference to take “big swings" and is not interested in chasing the status of certain labels that are now more nebulous than ever in college sports.

Pernetti said he won't be using terms like Power Five or Group of Five, which became the common way to delineate the 10 major college football conferences during the College Football Playoff's first decade.

“When I look at college football, to me college football is college football. Are there different levels of competition and levels of play? Of course there are,” he said. "Is there a financial disparity? We know that.

“We don't control a lot of that stuff but what I will try to focus on with the staff and the schools is what do we control? What is the stomach for taking some big swings.”

The 10 Bowl Subdivision conference commissioners, along with Notre Dame's athletic director, make up the College Football Playoff's board of managers.

The American has been the strongest of non-power conferences during the CFP's first 10 seasons as a four-team event. Seven times the AAC has produced the highest ranked Group of Five champion in the playoff rankings at the end of the season and Cincinnati in 2021 became the only non-Power conference team to play in the semifinals.

The CFP is expanding to 12 teams this season and could grow to 14 as soon as 2026.

“I actually think the evolution of the postseason in college football is encouraging because there's more access and there's more slots,” Pernetti said. “But there's 134 institutions playing (FBS) football, and as the CFP continues to grow and evolve, I think there's room for more.”

Pernetti said he's not sure what the right number of teams is for the CFP, but believes more postseason opportunities could be added to enhance or complement the current playoff and bowl system.

“Our coaches need to be able to look kids in the eye and explain to them that based on certain results we can compete for a national championship,” Pernetti said.

Pernetti said he will attend a board of managers meeting later this month with Aresco. He said the CFP has the “ability to move the entire industry" of college sports.

“So I think everybody in that room tearing down the walls and having transparent conversations (has) never been more important,” Pernetti said.

Conference realignment stripped the American of three of its power programs when Cincinnati, UCF and Houston moved to the Big 12 last year. The American added six schools in response: North Texas, Rice, Charlotte, UAB, UTSA and FAU.

SMU is leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference this summer and Army is set to join the AAC as a football-only member similar to rival Navy.

Pernetti said he's not naive to think realignment will ever end.

“But I do think there's a window ahead of us to do some things differently and quite frankly, resource this conference in a way where members don't need to leave,” he said.

Pernetti also talked about the possibility of the conference being involved in compensating athletes for name, image and likeness as a way to help retain top talent and looking into non-traditional forms of revenue generation such as private equity.

“Private equity has been heavily investing in sports for an extended period of time already. And it's like circling the neighborhood in college sports, but it hasn't parked its car in anyone's driveway yet,” Pernetti said. “I think that's inevitable.”


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