TULSA –– As the American Athletic Conference entered a new era on Saturday with the addition of six schools, The University of Tulsa begins its 10th year in the league after a successful first nine years for Golden Hurricane athletics.
It was on July 1, 2014, that Tulsa entered the American Athletic Conference and quickly became one of the elite schools when counting conference championships. Tulsa entered the league a year after the conference began competition in 201314. Tulsa’s league membership began with the 2014-15 academic year.
In the past nine years, Tulsa has won 27 league titles, which is the most championships of the remaining schools entering into the second decade of The American. Conference championships for Tulsa came in men’s and women’s cross country, women’s golf, men’s soccer, softball and women’s tennis, while the Tulsa men’s basketball team shared the regular season league title in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season. The Tulsa football team also advanced to The American Championship game in the 2020 season, losing on a last second field goal at No. 9-ranked Cincinnati. Tulsa teams has also had 21 second-place finishes.
“The AAC has been a fruitful and wonderful home for The University of Tulsa over the last nine years, as evidenced by the 27 conference championships and multiple team and individual accomplishments on the field and in the classroom,” Tulsa’s Vice President and Director of Athletics Rick Dickson said. “We look forward to continuing this success as we begin a new chapter of the American Athletic Conference.”
In the AAC, Tulsa has had more than 1,750 academic honor roll recipients, 26 Scholar-Athlete Sports Excellence Award winners, 24 AAC Academic Team Award selections and 482 all-conference performers. Tulsa has 22 AAC Players of the Year and 21 Coaching Staff of the Year selections in its first nine years. In addition, the Hurricane has had 41 All-Americans and nine Academic All-Americans in its nine seasons of American Athletic Conference membership.
During the nine-year time span, Tulsa student-athletes also garnered some top national awards. Cross country and track athlete Kirk Smith became the league’s only Rhodes Scholar during this time frame, having been awarded with the honor in 2017. In 2020, football linebacker Zaven Collins won the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy as the nation’s top defensive player.
On Saturday, six new institutions — University of Alabama-Birmingham, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Florida Atlantic University, University of North Texas, Rice University and the University of Texas-San Antonio — officially join the league, comprising the 15-school conference. These six schools join East Carolina, Memphis, Navy (in football only), South Florida, Southern Methodist University, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa and Wichita State (in basketball and Olympic sports).
“We extend a sincere welcome to our six new members,” Dickson said. “Each are located in great markets in our footprint and will be great additions to the next decade and beyond in the American Athletic Conference.”
“I want to issue a warm welcome to our six distinguished schools as they officially enter our conference,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said. “UAB, Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, North Texas, Rice and UTSA are going to be great additions to our powerful conference. Together with our nine outstanding incumbent universities, we will continue to elevate our brand and to make our mark on college athletics at the highest level. The 15 schools of our reinvented American Athletic Conference join together to celebrate our remarkable first decade and to look forward to the next decade with renewed determination and commitment. The future is bright.”
In the 2023-24 season, The American will be the only Division I conference to have a New Year’s Six bowl winner (Tulane) and an NCAA Men’s Final Four participant (Florida Atlantic) in its ranks. In football, The American will be one of four FBS conferences (along with the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference) to have at least two 11-win teams from last year (Tulane, UTSA).
The six incoming schools combined to win 14 championships in their previous conference last year, while the nine incumbent members from the American won 13 conference titles in the 2022-23 season.
The American’s new configuration will contribute to a legacy that includes four NCAA championship teams, a College Football Playoff semifinalist, four New Year’s Six bowl champions, two NCAA Men’s Final Four participants, six Women’s Final Four Teams, a College World Series team, an National Invitation Tournament champion and 15 NCAA individual champions — all since the start of the 2013-14 season.
The reconfiguration of The American further concentrates the league in major metropolitan areas and recruiting strongholds. The league has four teams in the state of Texas, two each in Florida and North Carolina and one each in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Kansas. That results in a presence in four of the top 10, six of the top 25 and 12 of the top 52 Nielsen media markets.
It also allows for The American to enjoy a lucrative and comprehensive media rights partnership with ESPN, giving the conference a significant presence on the worldwide leader’s primary television networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU) and an all-sports presence on ESPN+, the industry’s leading streaming service with more than 25.3 million subscribers.
Away from the competitive arena, The American will continue to be a leader in the area of student-athlete wellness, both through the adoption of NCAA autonomous legislation on matters including full cost of attendance and nutrition. The conference, in conjunction with its Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, has also launched the “Powerful Minds Campaign” to improve awareness and education on mental health issues and recognize the scholarly achievements of the conference’s student-athletes.