UTSA coaches express excitement over move to the American Athletic Conference


Dalton Hartmann

After just eight short years in Conference USA, UTSA is on the move once again. The move to the American Athletic Conference will represent UTSA’s fifth ever athletics conference.

Ryder Martin, Sports Editor

“This is a bold opportunity for us, and it makes perfect sense why we’re joining the premier group of five conferences. We’re going to have the opportunity for wonderful student athlete experiences.” 

The above statement by UTSA President Taylor Eighmy summed up the mood perfectly. With news on Thursday, Oct. 22, that UTSA had been accepted as a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC) alongside five other universities from Conference USA (C-USA), there was a palpable sense of excitement and joy in the air at the press conference announcing the move. At the press conference, The Paisano had the chance to sit down for interviews with head men’s basketball coach Steve Henson, head women’s basketball coach Karen Aston and head soccer coach Derek Pittman for their reaction to the news of the impending move. 

All three coaches expressed how excited they were upon first hearing about the move from C-USA to the AAC. 

“We were excited, obviously heard a few rumors some things were going on. We’re proud of all the things that transpired, but to put our department in this position took a lot of effort on behalf of a lot of people…There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes, and there’s just exciting times around here,” Henson said.

“Just super excited…Excited for the coaches that have been here for a while building the situation we are in right now. I was just super excited for President Eighmy and Dr. Campos just because I know that it was a lot of work, a lot of preparation, a lot of hours spent putting our program in the position that we’re in,” Aston said. 

“Absolutely elated, to be honest, the American Athletic Conference from a soccer perspective is one of the top five leagues in the country…On a regular basis for the American Athletic Conference putting two, three teams in the NCAA Tournament, I get super excited to be able to play against the likes of SMU, Memphis, at USF, even the likes of Tulsa, East Carolina all very solid soccer programs.  Excited to be able to continue that tradition and be able to add to it,” Pittman said. 

One aspect of the move that all three coaches acknowledged is how it changed the calculus when it comes to recruiting going forward. 

“Along those same lines, being able to let the recruit know that they’re going to be playing against some of the nation’s best. We’re going to match up well against the Big 12 and some of the best teams across the country. That’s who you’re going to be playing not only from a non-conference standpoint, but also what we’re going to be doing and who we’re playing against in the league. It’s going to be an absolutely fantastic showcase from a recruiting standpoint,” Pittman said. 

“We’re in a building process. We’ve got a long way to go to get to where we need to be, and it’s one day at a time…As we move forward and you start to understand when they’ll move into the league, you start to talk a little bit more with recruits about it but I definitely think that what it does is it validates what your vision is…you can talk about vision and it’s an actual reality so I think that’s really important in the recruiting process,” Aston said. 

“We’re always trying to recruit the right level, the right kids. Part of recruiting is figuring out who you can get, who to spend your time on, we’ll need really good players…It’s exciting but challenging of course. There are some terrific basketball programs in the American Athletic Conference, but we have the opportunity to recruit some other kids that maybe we wouldn’t have before and we look forward to doing that,” Henson said. 

The coaches also expressed their optimism and excitement for the planned athletics facility upgrades in conjunction with the switch in conferences. 

“I’m really committed to the program; I want everybody to be successful. I think just talking to everybody in the program and to Dr. Campos it’s very clear that Park West has to get done. That facility and area of the campus is the most important thing on their agenda, but right there along with that it’s very clear that we’re going to need some basketball facilities. I don’t think that the American is going to happen and we get a practice facility and a new arena all in one day. So whatever decision they made, whether it’s just trying to get an arena first or at least from what I understand the practice facility might be a more feasible option right to begin with. It still sends a message to recruits and sends the message more towards our current student athletes that we care about you,” Aston said.

“It’s a game changer, can’t wait to get a shovel in the ground out there and get this thing going. I hope we’ll be able to do that soon. We already have a great field to be able to play on, we’ve got a great environment with as many fans as we’re able to bring out, but once that facility is finished, to be able to give our players the locker rooms and meeting spaces that we need to be able to take this program to the next step is huge for us. So, we’re excited about this opportunity, but also what that means for our soccer program as we continue to grow and head in the right direction,” Pittman said.

“To be talking about those things right now is really exciting. When Gene Dawson (President of the Roadrunner Foundation) talked about the potential for a training facility for basketball and volleyball, that lifted our spirits. The RACE building itself is such a symbol of hope for us…We knew that that building was going to springboard future opportunities for us. There’s a lot of different things being floated around out there, we don’t really know what’s going to be realistic, but facilities are a very important part of it,” Henson said. 

In conversations with all three coaches, it is clear that they are excited for the future of each of their respective programs, but also the athletics department as a whole as UTSA steps forward into this bold new future.