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Cincinnati, Houston, UCF will join Big 12 in 2023 as AAC paves the way for additions to Conference USA

The American Athletic Conference has reached a mutual agreement with Cincinnati, Houston and UCF that the three schools will participate in the Big 12 Conference on July 1, 2023, the AAC said Friday. The three schools are joining BYU as new Big 12 members, meaning the league will field at least 12 members for the first time since the 2011 realignment. The buyout for the teams leaving the conference early is $18 million per school, to be paid over the age of 14, accordingly the athlete.

“I would like to thank UCF President Alexander Cartwright, Cincinnati President Neville Pinto and Houston President Renu Khator — as well as Tulane President Michael Fitts, who chairs our board of directors — for their efforts and leadership in bringing about a sensible resolution the departure of the three schools from the conference,” UK Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement. “All three institutions have enjoyed tremendous success under the banner of the American Athletic Conference and all three have been instrumental in making the conference both athletic and academically to great heights. We wish them the best and look forward to welcoming them to our conference in 2022. 23.”

The decision means the three schools are now entering their final seasons in the AAC, having served as charter members. The timing couldn’t be better as the three teams finished 2021 44-10 combined while Cincinnati became the first Group of Five program to earn a trip to the College Football Playoffs. The three AAC trainers took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in our Ranking of AAC coaches.

As things stand, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF and BYU would join the Big 12 before Oklahoma and Texas make their way to the SEC. While there’s still a possibility that the Sooners and Longhorns might leave earlier than the 2025 deadline originally set by the Big 12 Grant of Rights, there has been little movement from either side to pay for the massive takeover that the Big 12 statutes required.

If Oklahoma and Texas are still in the league when the new teams join, the Big 12 will likely split into two seven-team divisions to break up the 14-team league Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports. But new NCAA rules passed since Dodd’s report in January mean the league doesn’t have to host divisions to field a conference championship game.

“We only talked about it a little bit, but we didn’t dive [the teams up]said John Cunningham, AD of Cincinnati, Dodd in January. “Do you drive north to south? Are you going east to west? I think there are some obvious things that would break that way, but we’ll find that out over time.”

The decision, which is becoming official, has already sparked another round of announcements involving other leagues. Charlotte and UTSA, two of six Conference USA schools moving to the American Athletic Conference, announced they will be moving to the AAC in time for the 2023 season. The other four schools — FAU, North Texas, Rice and UAB — are expected to make similar announcements soon.

“We are thrilled to be a part of The American in 2023-24 and are carefully preparing for this transformative opportunity,” said Mike Hill, Charlotte athletic director. “We look forward to competing in such an outstanding league. We are also grateful to our colleagues at Conference USA and look forward to an exciting final season as members in 2022-23.”

With three exiting and six entering programs, the AAC will be a 14-team league in time for the 2023 football season. In addition to the AAC departures in 2023, Conference USA loses Old Dominion, Southern Miss and Marshall to the Sun Belt in time for the 2022 season. Liberty, New Mexico State, Sam Houston and Jacksonville State will join the league as backups in 2023.

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