Three of the new teams joining the Big 12 are coming by way of the American Athletic Conference. Houston and UCF are both regular softball championship contenders in the AAC and their departure changes the conference’s footprint on the diamond as much as anywhere else.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has already said that his league will expand, and a number of programs are reportedly under consideration to receive invites from the American. Football will be of paramount importance during such discussions, but since this is a softball site, we decided to take a look at what the softball implications would be if the American officially added some of the teams that they are rumored to be discussing.
The Home Runs
James Madison, Liberty, Louisiana-Lafayette, UAB
Let’s see here – the first mid-major WCWS team in close to a decade and a team riding a postseason streak that dates back to before some of their current players were born. Throw in Dot Richardson’s perennially-potent Liberty squad and a rising UAB team in the middle of the south and what’s not to love? James Madison would move up from FCS to FBS football, but the Dukes have been playing at a high level in softball for a number of years and would be a home run addition on the diamond for the American. The Cajuns have a stranglehold on Sun Belt softball at the moment and are easily the most populous softball fan base outside the Power 5. Liberty is still fairly new to the ASun and UAB hasn’t completely proved itself on the diamond quite yet, but both are quality programs still rising and would be quality additions to the AAC.
The Solid Base Hits
Boise State, Charlotte, Marshall
This trio of softball programs couldn’t be much more different, yet all three have a similar level of potential should they move up to the AAC. Marshall is a former power in Conference USA that has dropped off a bit as other programs in the league have risen in recent years. The talent level has not taken much of a hit, though, and the Herd remain a tough team to beat, even in down years. Boise State is a more recent comer on the postseason scene, with a pair of tournament berths under their belts in the last five years. Charlotte might be best monikered as a “still-coming” team, but after a high finish in Conference USA in 2021 and the excitement that the Niners’ program holds, a lot of promise goes a long way.
Colorado State, North Texas, San Diego State
Now we’re getting into some more interesting territory. There are benefits and drawbacks to each of the teams here and each team could be seen differently depending on who was doing the seeing. North Texas made quick improvements into a regular contender role when Rodney DeLong took over the reins, but have yet to break through to the NCAA tournament. Colorado State is just a couple of years removed from a conference title, but have fallen back in the conference race since then. San Diego State, a Mountain West foe alongside CSU, have had a couple of down years but remain a haven of talent and now boast a rejuvenated coaching staff.
Going to Review
Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss
In the present day, this quartet of programs doesn’t look like anything to write home about as a unit, much less individually. Each, though, has shown some signs of life or has a history of success. Appalachian State is still in the toddler years following their move up to FBS football and membership in the Sun Belt; Coastal Carolina was once an offensive juggernaut; Florida Atlantic used to be a perennial contender; and Southern Miss remain one of few mid-major programs to ever reach the Women’s College World Series in multiple years, though that was at the turn of the century. Basing a judgment on history instead of the present day isn’t a great life choice as a rule, but the history of these programs did earn them a category of their own.
Juuuust a Bit Outside
Army, Georgia State, UTSA
These programs would not be terrific additions to an American conference intent on keeping their status as a top-level softball league. All three have potential – Army has had talent in years past but their status as a service academy obviously 86s a number of prospective recruits; Georgia State is in the middle of talent-ripe Atlanta; and UTSA also benefits from their location – but all three have also failed to truly realize their potential to this point.
Swings and Misses
Air Force, Arkansas State, Navy, Old Dominion, Rice
Not sponsoring a softball program is an easy way to land on the bottom rung of this ladder. Unfortunately, all five of these athletic departments haven’t yet seen the benefits of playing softball. The biggest concern here is that, if the American chooses to add two or more of this quintet of schools, it could come at the expense of the conference’s softball offering.