North Texas could soon be on its way to the American Athletic Conference as part of a six-team expansion.
UNT will apply to join the league along with five other teams from Conference USA — Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, UTSA, Rice and UAB — according to a report from Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports.
All six schools are expected to be accepted into what will be a 14-team league.
UNT has been a member of Conference USA since 2013. The six schools the AAC is interested in are being told to show that they have a desire to join the league and to apply.
The application process is an early step in what is expected to be the expansion of the league and is considered a formality. The AAC’s presidents would have to approve the new lineup of schools.
UNT and other C-USA schools would have to pay an exit fee to leave the league. That fee would be in the $3 million range, according to Thamel.
A move to the AAC would represent a dramatic upgrade for UNT. The Mean Green would join SMU, Memphis, East Carolina, Temple, Tulsa, South Florida, Navy, Tulane and Wichita State in a reconstituted conference.
UNT has laid the groundwork for the move to a higher-level league over the last several years. The school has upgraded its facilities and also become more competitive on the field in several sports since it joined C-USA.
UNT’s men’s basketball team won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history last spring when it upset Purdue in a first-round game.
The school also opened the Lovelace & McNatt Families Practice Facility, a $16 million indoor venue, in the fall of 2019. UNT President Neal Smatresk and athletic director Wren Baker have helped UNT improve its profile over the last five years.
“We need to make sure that the power brokers, my colleagues and Neal’s colleagues throughout the country understand what’s happening at the University of North Texas,” Baker said this fall. “We need to let people know about the growth that has happened academically and athletically.”
All six of the schools that are set to join the AAC are currently members of C-USA.
Smatresk is the chair of C-USA’s board of directors and joined league commissioner Judy MacLeod in sending a letter to the AAC earlier this fall asking the conference to join its efforts to realign Group of Five leagues across the country on a regional basis.
Those efforts do not appear as if they will stave off the latest chapter in a round of realignment that began when the SEC added Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12. The Big 12 responded by adding BYU and three schools from the AAC — Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston.
Those moves left an opening for UNT, which now appears destined to end up in a regionally friendly division with SMU. Rice, UTSA, Tulsa and Tulane.
UNT and SMU are longtime rivals and faced each other for the 41st time in football this fall, when the Mustangs won 35-12.
The AAC adding Rice and UTSA in addition to UNT would continue to give the school exposure across the state. UNT officials have long credited the exposure their programs have received in Texas as a member of C-USA for fostering the school’s rise as an athletics program during its tenure in the league.
UNT was the lone Texas school in the Sun Belt, the conference it was a member of before joining C-USA.
Baker continued to send the same message to UNT’s coaches, athletes and fans during the school’s tenure in C-USA as realignment scenarios were discussed in college athletics.
“If we’re focused on being the best we can be and continually improving, then everything else will take care of itself,” Baker said.
UNT was also mentioned as a candidate to join the Mountain West.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco spoke shortly after his league was raided by the Big 12 on the league’s outlook.
“Our remaining schools are unwavering in their commitment to competing and succeeding at the highest level and we will not allow external factors to put a ceiling on our potential,” Aresco said in a statement. “We remain unified and resolute and will consider all of our options as we move The American into our second decade and beyond.”
Barring something unforeseen, the AAC will officially pick an option that includes adding UNT to the league in a matter of days.