American Athletic Conference rebuilding with 6 Conference USA schools

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Major college football is settling into a strange period with lame duck memberships and frayed allegiances that could last another season or even two as conferences sort out the latest shifts and turns of realignment.

The American Athletic Conference on Thursday became the latest to act in the trickle down effect from Texas and Oklahoma’s announced move to the Southeastern Conference.

The American is adding UAB, UTSA, Rice, North Texas, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic to replace three schools that are leaving for the Big 12 Conference — eventually.

“I think they will definitely take great advantage of the exposure and the platforms that are going to be provided by this conference,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said. “So we look forward, down the road, and we’re not certain when they’re going to come in yet. That’s still to be decided.”

Pinning down an ETA for the AAC’s new additions is complicated because the conference doesn’t realistically have room for the newcomers until the outgoing schools have left.

Those within the AAC believe 2023 is a realistic target for the transition to a 14-team conference after swiping six schools from Conference USA.

But it all starts with Texas and Oklahoma. The Longhorns and Sooners are contractually obligated to the Big 12 until July 2025. The SEC has made it clear that while it is looking forward to having Texas and OU on board, the league is also fine with waiting until then.

Breaking the contract would cost Texas and Oklahoma tens of millions of dollars in exit fees paid to the Big 12, but it is understood that everybody involved would benefit from not stringing out this broken relationship for three more seasons.

The Big 12, after all, already has replacements lined up. The conference in September announced BYU and three AAC powers, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, would be joining — eventually.

BYU, an independent in football with other sports in the West Coast Conference, is preparing to join the Big 12 in 2023. The three American schools are required to give the conference 27 months’ notice and pay $10 million exit fees. The Big 12 said it expected them to join by no later than summer of 2024. And it left the door open to add more schools down the road.

“We’re living in a very fast-changing athletic environment, and we will be at 14 for a while, we will drop back to 12, and as there are targets of opportunity or as there are situations that dictate that we change composition, we’ll be prepared to do those things,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in September.

Aresco conceded growing to 14 was a way for a conference that has become a feeder league for the Power Five to be prepared for future poaching.

“We decided that there was strength in numbers,” Aresco said. “We also looked around and said you know there are some schools that we might be interested in later on, why not, you know, think about taking them now?”

C-USA and the Sun Belt are next up in realignment. With only eight remaining members, Conference USA needs to both protect its assets and add on. A request for comment from Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod was not immediately returned.

The Sun Belt continues to publicly say it will explore its options, but Commissioner Keith Gill told AP the conference is feeling no pressure to act now that the American has made its move.

“There is no timetable,” Gill said.

He declined to comment on reports the 10-football member Sun Belt is eyeing some of C-USA’s remaining schools such as Southern Mississippi, Marshall and Old Dominion along with FCS powerhouse James Madison.

No matter. The map is unlikely to be redrawn for 2022, which means another full season of potentially uncomfortable moments that have already started to play out.

Earlier this week, Bowlsby told The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman newspaper Oklahoma and Texas secretly planning to leave the Big 12 felt like a “personal betrayal.” He added the Longhorns’ recent issues in football had nothing to do with the conference in which they play.

No. 3 Oklahoma is on target to play in yet another Big 12 title game in December. A seventh straight conference championship for the Sooners could make for an awkward trophy presentation with the commissioner at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Same goes in the American, where No. 2 Cincinnati is positioned be the first team from outside the Power Five to make a serious run at the College Football Playoff.

Aresco did not attend Cincinnati’s game against Notre Dame earlier this month, but is not about to disown the unbeaten Bearcats.

“Cincinnati if, you know, we don’t know what’s gonna happen, but if they make the playoffs or they do something remarkable, they will have done it in the American Athletic Conference,” he said.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.