The main goal of college athletics' Realign-mageddon, which mercifully came to a halt this past year following a lengthy reign of terror, was improving image.
Sure, it had to do with increased revenue streams, better access to bigger bowls, greater exposure and a bunch of other stuff, but image essentially was everything. Improve your image and everything else follows. How does a college athletic program improve its image?
One way is to move to a cooler neighborhood.
So a bunch of teams with a chance to move did. Big 12 teams jumped to the SEC. Big East teams hopped to the Big 12 and the ACC. An ACC team even moved to the Big Ten.
And a horde of Conference USA teams began an exodus to the Conference Formerly Known as the Big East, the American Athletic Conference.
The University of Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and Southern Methodist went this year. Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane leave next year. Their idea was that in pairing with the erstwhile Big East football schools they would earn the image boost they craved and felt they couldn't achieve in Conference USA.
Now it's a tiny, tiny example of an athletic conference's public image, but when the Maxwell Award watch list came out Monday, the American's teams scanned it and saw just a trio of C-USA players among the names. Surely they breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed in the satisfaction of their two names on that same list.
According to the Maxwell's selection committee - charged with picking, in its mind, the top college football player in the nation - there are more players in those teams' former conference worthy of consideration than there are in its current conference. Again, in the grand scheme, that watch list is but a grain of sand on the beach of public perception. But media outlets that cover the 76 players named Monday made sure to broadcast the announcement.
It may be one grain of sand, but right now that's one shiny grain.
Couple that with an Orlando Sentinel story detailing the difficulties the American is having in locking up new bowl agreements. Its Pinstripe and Belk Bowl automatic invitations are gone and its Russell Athletic Bowl invitation could be out the door as well.