Rice, North Texas and UT-San Antonio head to AAC as part of the great conference realignment of 2021

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The great college conference realignment of 2021 continued Thursday, and yet again, a Houston university is part of it.

Rice University was among the six schools who accepted invitations to join the American Athletic Conference, which has sought new members in the wake of the Big 12's raid of three member schools: Cincinnati, Central Florida, and Rice's crosstown rival, the University of Houston.

Independent BYU is also joining the AAC trio to the Big 12.

North Texas, UT-San Antonio, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, and Alabama-Birmingham are the other schools that will join Rice in the AAC. A date for their entrance into the newly expanded, 14-school league was not immediately announced.

The Rice Owls are currently members of Conference USA.

"We have been working diligently to position Rice as an attractive candidate when the next round of conference realignment began," said Joe Karlgaard, Rice's athletics director. "Today's invitation to join the American Athletic Conference confirms our approach and aligns with our aspirations to offer an unparalleled experience for our students. The commitment to athletics by our university administration has been crucial to our efforts to move forward, and we're very grateful for their close partnership. We have strong alignment as we embark on the next chapter in the history of Rice Athletics."

Rice and Houston's conference movements have closely resembled each other. Both were members of the Southwest Conference until its breakup in 1996.

From there, Rice headed to the Western Athletic Conference while Houston joined Conference USA, which the Coogs were a member from 1996 to 2013.

The Owls then reunited with the Cougars when Rice joined the C-USA in 2005.

Houston would escape C-USA for the AAC in 2013. UH is due to head to the Big 12 Conference beginning in 2023.

Of course, the seismic shift is partially attributed to University of Texas and University of Oklahoma joining the Southeastern Conference, leaving the Big 12 with just eight member schools before the impending additions.

So what advantages would this carry for Rice? According to AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, better national exposure.

"We have enhanced geographical concentration, which will especially help the conference's men's and women's basketball and Olympic sports teams," Aresco said. "And we will continue to provide valuable inventory to our major media rights partner, ESPN, which will feature our members on the most prominent platforms in sports media."

The AAC is at the front end of a 10-year deal with ESPN that will pay the conference's schools between $7 million and $8 million per year over the length of the contract. It is unclear whether the value of the deal will be impacted by the change in membership, but the contract makes the conference the wealthiest in major college football outside the Power Five.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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