Last AAC

Charlotte is leaving Conference USA for the second time.  

The moment Texas and Oklahoma announced their move to the SEC in July, the college sports landscape forever changed. And just a couple of months later, the Charlotte 49ers program benefited from that move. Once Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston headed to the Big 12, the door to head to the American Conference was wide open for the 49ers.

Yahoo Sports reported that the 49ers were one of six schools to join the American Athletic Conference (AAC). On Oct. 21, it was confirmed that Charlotte would be joining the AAC and that the speculations are coming to fruition.

“I am confident that both collectively and individually these teams will have success in the American Conference,” commissioner of the American conference, Mike Aresco said in a press conference last Thursday. "They have had success where they have been and I think they have a chance to elevate that and will add to this conferences' legacy of success." 

How did we get here?

The journey to the AAC has been a long time coming for Charlotte, as they spent considerable time in different conferences. The 49ers were charting members of the Sun Belt in 1976 and didn’t leave the conference until 1991. Then, they moved to the Metro Conference in 1991, where the 49ers were once again charting members. However, the membership-only lasted four years with the Metro Conference.

After leaving the Metro in 1995, Charlotte joined Conference USA for their first stint, where the 49ers basketball program made a name for themselves. They were able to regularly play schools such as Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette. 

One thing was missing for a long time for the 49ers: a football program. It wasn’t until 2013 when the 49ers added a football program after not fielding a team since 1948. In two short years, Charlotte made the jump from the FCS level to FBS, where they joined the rest of the 49er teams in Conference USA.

Why does the move make sense?

This makes sense from many angles. First, you can look at the revenue perspective as each school will make two million dollars a year from the conference. This revenue will be gained from television deals

The AAC targeted schools that are in metropolitan areas, which the 49ers fall right under. However, in his press conference, Aresco stressed many times that the conference wanted schools in bigger areas with high potential.

“These schools make great sense for us in many different perspectives,” said AAC commissioner Mike Aresco. "[A] geographical sense, clearly. By virtue of their location in major cities that add to our intensive media footprint." 

Aresco added how the conference has seen past success in bigger cities such as Memphis, Philadelphia, Dallas and Houston.

UTSA, Rice, North Texas, FAU, UAB and the 49ers all fit under that profile and are willing to invest in their athletic programs, especially the football department. For Charlotte, since athletic director Mike Hill came onto the scene in 2018, the football program has skyrocketed. 

With the addition of head coach Will Healy in 2019, the 49ers made their first-ever bowl game and set a record for wins (seven) in a single season. In addition, the program was rebranded in the summer of last year, which gave the 49ers a fresh new logo. 

Football isn’t the only sport that has helped launch the school into the spotlight. The baseball and men’s soccer teams both made the NCAA tournaments last season. In addition, the women’s basketball team made the NIT in 2021 and is projected to win C-USA for the 2021-22 season.

Moving Forward

Now that the move is official, the anticipation begins for fans and even the media, as this will likely be a beneficial change from multiple aspects. With the teams not likely starting competition in the conference until 2023-24 according to reports, there are still questions surrounding Charlotte regarding facility upgrades. Additionally, a lot of speculation around a football stadium seat number expansion has been stirring lately. This change will be sure to start new rivalries as well.

“We look forward to the renewal of old rivalries and the development of new rivalries,” said Aresco. “We’ve done very well with the development of new rivalries.” 

This means Charlotte will play East Carolina University every year in sporting events. This in-state rivalry promises to deliver, especially in sports like football and baseball. The 49ers and Pirates met in the NCAA tournament in baseball last season and will challenge each other in the regular season in the future. 

“We are thrilled to be in a league with East Carolina,” 49er Athletic Director Mike Hill said. “To have an in-state rival matters a lot. For us to be positioned in a conference with a great program like ECU matters a lot to our fanbase.”

There is a lot to look forward to for the program as a whole, and the support of the alumni, fans and student body along the way will be key for the success of the program moving forward as Charlotte makes its way to the new conference. 

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