3rd And Long: CFB No Longer CFB

Mike Aresco moving into retirement .

(Second in a series of columns by FWAA Past President Mark Blaudschun on college topics.) 

By Mark Blaudschun

He is the Lion in Winter now, heading into the next phase of a career which spanned 40 years and saw the evolution of college football from a Saturday afternoon part of American culture into a multi-billion dollar industry, which has made CFB unrecognizabfle in many ways.

Mike Aresco was part of that.

Hell, as an executive at ESPN and CBS Sports, he made some of the games college football America saw each week.

A dozen years ago, Aresco made the transition from television executive to college athletics administrator as Commissioner of the Big East, which morphed into a hybrid called the American Athletic Conference (AAC) when Big East football dissolved.

Aresco's role also changed.

He went from having one of the most important voices in the room to someone who seemed to have the microphones shut off when he spoke in a sport which became dominated by what was called the Power 5, then downsized to the Power 4 and now is really the Power 2 with the growing strength of the Southeastern and Big Ten conferences.

As the Commissioner of the AAC, Aresco still had things to say, but his words had less impact. He was not a Power 6 commissioner, but a Group of 5 (a term Aresco despises) commissioner.

Now, however, Aresco's working career is in its final phases. 

He will retire at the end of the May and head into retirement in Sun Valley, Idaho, living in a home he and his wife purchased a few years ago.

There will be no transition as some of his brethren have followed, working as consultants or advisors.

"Nope,'' he said with a smile and a laugh the other day as he enjoyed lunch with some friends at a trendy seafood restaurant overlooking Lake Caroyln in Las Colinas, a few blocks from the AAC offices. 

"I'm done. No more stadiums, no more games. I will sit in front of my television set and just watch.''

What bothers Aresco the most are the changes in the game of college football.

"It's not college football,'' he says, when discussing a sport which has faced a tsunami of change with Name, Image and Licencing (NIL) issues and the transfer portal which has created free agency.  "So much has changed with leadership and perspective.''

Aresco has experienced it first hand as the commissioner of the AAC, which had to be created and then rebuilt in its short nine-year life span. He acknowledges conference re-alignment as part of the landscape. "But there has to  be some semblances of order where it makes sense,'' he said. "But when the Big Ten added USC and UCLA, they crossed the Rubicon."

This coming season, CFB will expand to a 12-team playoff system. "Eight would have been enough,'' says Aresco, who maintains with some pride that he got the AAC into a New Year's Six  bowl slot. 

Aresco does not dispute the theory that the 12-team format will change to 16 sooner rather than later and college football will have to deal with some teams playing in 16 or even 17 games in a season which could begin in August and not end until late January. '"You look at all of it and you wonder where is education factoring in any of this.''

Aresco has seen lots of games and has a trove of stories. He remembers going to Army-Navy games and being in a box with a couple of Naval Academy graduates on either side of him named Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach.

''Both great guys,'' he said, referring to a pair of Heisman Trophy winners as well.

He also remembers dealing with Presidents of the United States during the college football season.

"It was when Clinton was President.'' he said. ""We were doing a game with Sean McDonnaugh and Terry Donahue were the broadcasters at CBS and President Clinton is visiting and talking to Donahue,'' said Aresco. "The game resumes and Sean is doing the game basically on his own, so he asks (the broadcast truck) where Donahue was. They told him he's still talking to President Clinton, you're on your own.''

Which is what Aresco will be in a few weeks. 

Sun Vallley seems an ideal retreat.  "It's a great house with the mountains in the front yard and a five minute walk into the village,'' he said. "My wife likes to ski, so we will spend our time there and travel and see different things. I've never been off in the fall and in the winter, well, its summer in Australia in December, so that wouldn't be a bad place to visit.''


He's had a few.

"Not getting the AAC into a Power 5 (Conference) '' he said. "We did a great job in putting things together with teams like UCF and Cincinnati. I think it has been a good strong, solid league.''

But in a few weeks, college football issues will be someone else's problems,  which is fine witih Mike Aresco.