One of the biggest talking points thrown around in the moving conferences discussion is the question of competitiveness. Could UB compete in the (presumably) tougher arena of a conference richer than the MAC?
Really, from the Buffalo perspective, who cares? It's not like UB has been lighting the world on fire in the Mid-American anyway, and schools move up for the money, which is another post on the horizon, but would be a step up for UB in this hypothetical. Why not at least find some teams more people - both recruits and fans - have heard of? Why not, as Conrad will point out later in the piece, play the teams we actually compare ourselves to, like UConn, more often?
The following chart shows 10 years of Massey Ranking, Buffalo and current 2015 AAC Teams:
Buffalo's good seasons were just above the worst 4 AAC teams, their best seasons about AAC average. It's not a stretch to say Buffalo would probably struggle transitioning to the AAC.
However, it would put UB on a more level playing field with regional rivals (or should-be regional rivals, at least) UConn and Temple in recruiting, and I am confident UB could play with UConn, Temple, and USF. I think that's all we could ask for as a team moving up, to compete and hopefully get better.
Many would prefer to stay in the MAC and try to win more. The above graph says that's a fools game. We won the MAC in 2008 but we would have only been an average AAC team. I would rather go AAC and strive to win that conference and be ranked near the top 20, than to focus on winning the MAC and being the 60th or 70th best team in the country.
AAC Basketball would be a bigger draw for recruits with UConn in the conference. Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati, are also very good teams that would improve the excitement and quality of our Men's and Women's teams. I think the current basketball-knowledgeable pair of White and Hurley would ensure that the program would be successful in basketball regardless.
In addition, the MAC is a winner take all league, because they only get one bid to the Big Dance. Last year the American sent four teams to the tournament. This would give Buffalo a much better shot at going to the tournament on their merits, and a fluke tip-in in OT of a championship game wouldn't exclude Buffalo ever again.
New York State isn't the greatest hotbed of talent for football, but the state has a ton of talent in Olympic Sports. UB already has a financial advantage in recruiting those athletes, as many are equivalency sports, as well as a stronger history of success when compared against current AAC teams in a number of Olympic programs.
Head Count Sports are sports where everyone who competes gets a full scholarship (minus walk-ons). Those sports are Football, Basketball, Women's Tennis and Women's Volleyball.
Every other sport is equivalency, where students may get a full-ride or a percentage of the full ride. The 23 women on the MAC Champion UB soccer team have to split 14 full scholarships. The coach can determine how he splits the scholarships each year. For example ten ladies could be on half scholarship (five total), seven could be on full scholarship (seven total), and six could be on 33% scholarship (two total).
Often in olympic sports, the difference between a team with the depth to win championships is the ability for student to afford tuition outside of their scholarship cost. In the MAC, it's hard to pitch a New Yorker with mid-major Ohio opponents. In the AAC, we could pitch New Yorkers with the affordability and quality of the UB education along with a chance to play against the best, not only in the northeast, but also in big markets in Florida and Texas.
If in 2003, you asked me where UB would be in 2014, I would say competing to win the MAC every year in all sports. Fact is, we aren't there, have only recently started to state it as our out and our goal, and I don't think we'll ever get there in this conference. There is a tendency to hope for better, but at a certain point, trying to win in the MAC is repeating the same process hoping for different results.
Competitive or not initially, a move would make us better as we'd no longer be the outlier in the Ohio-Michigan footprint, and we'd be playing in a conference aligned with our University. Even today, we don't measure ourselves by wins vs Kent and Ohio, we look to beat Pitt or UConn. The compass on which we guide our journey will always point east.
The question therefore isn't can UB compete in the American, the question is can UB compete without joining the American. 15 years of evidence says they can't.