Explaining The American Athletic Conference Tiebreaker Scenarios


The Bearcats and Ponies are on a collision course for a first place tie in the AAC after splitting a pair of boxing matches this season. Both teams are on fire and if the Bearcats finish 4–0 and the Mustangs finish 3–0, there will be a deadlock at 17–1.

I think we’re close enough to the finish line that it’s worth it to peek ahead and see how this all will shake out as far as the AAC Tournament goes. The Bearcats’ last true chance to improve their standing heading into March Madness will be in the conference tournament. A win in Hartford would do a ton for their resume, and may be enough to move them up another seed line as some higher-ranked teams inevitably falter and lose early games in their conference brackets.

First, I’ll give you the exact language from the AAC Basketball Media Guide and then I’ll explain it in layman’s terms.



  1. Head-to-head record. This is obvious. If UC and SMU both finished with matching records but UC swept the Mustangs, they’d be the 1-seed. This year, that won’t be the case. The teams split their meetings.
  2. Record vs the rest of the conference. This is where it starts to get nuanced. If both UC and SMU win out, they finish 17–1 with their only losses being against each other. This means a perfect record against the rest of the conference. As of today, that’s all you need to know. None of the rest of this matters at this point, so stop reading unless you’re curious. The rules state that you start with the third place team and slowly work your way down the standings until one team has an advantage in head-to-head games. To make things more complicated, the AAC Media Guide lays out rules that specify uneven games (ex. UC only plays Memphis and ECU once, SMU only plays UCF and USF once) do not provide an advantage at this juncture of the tie-breaking process. So if the Bearcats were to finish with a 2–0 record against the 3rd place team and SMU finished with a 1–0 record against that team, there is no advantage, because SMU could theoretically tie UC’s 2–0 mark if they happened to have the same number of chances UC got. The only way to declare an advantage at this juncture is to have a 2–0 record vs an 0–1 record. In theory, if UC and SMU had matching undefeated records against the third, fourth, and fifth place teams but UC was 2–0 vs #6 while SMU was 0–1, this would be enough to declare an advantage and give Cincinnati the 1-seed.
  3. Winning percentage vs the rest of the conference. If Step 2 does not declare an advantage (as is the case this year), you repeat the process but allow winning percentage to take over. Example: If UC had a 1–1 record vs the third place team and SMU had an 0–1 record, Cincinnati is the 1-seed because that’s a .500 winning percentage vs .000. In Step 2, that would be a tie because SMU could theoretically match UC at 1–1. In Step 3, that rule is abolished. Additionally, uneven games matter in this step.This is how this year’s tiebreaker will shake out if UC and SMU win out. The Bearcats want UCF to finish as high in the standings as possible because they will have beaten them twice and the Mustangs only have one game against them. The Mustangs want Memphis to finish as high as possible because they will have beaten them twice and the Bearcats only have one game against them. In short: If UCF finishes ahead of Memphis, the Bearcats are the 1-seed. If Memphis finishes ahead of UCF, SMU is the 1-seed. If the Memphis & UCF tie, move down the standings. The Bearcats want USF to finish ahead of ECU because they will have beaten them twice and the Mustangs only have one game against them. The Mustangs want ECU to finish ahead of USF because they will have beaten them twice and the Bearcats only have one game against them. In short (again, assuming MEM & UCF have tied), if USF finishes ahead of ECU, the Bearcats are the 1-seed. If ECU finishes ahead of UCF, the Mustangs are the 1-seed.This is impossible. USF cannot mathematically pass or tie ECU.However, in theory, if USF and ECU were to tie…
  4. Coin flip. This is the last resort, and the coin flip happens at the AAC offices immediately following the final game of the regular season. There is no scenario in which a coin flip happens this season.

What Bearcat fans need to root for:

  • Win out. Obviously. I don’t think SMU is going to lose again. The Bearcats need to start by controlling what they can control.
  • UCF needs to finish ahead of Memphis. If Memphis finishes ahead of UCF, SMU is the 1-seed. If the two tie, the tiebreaker moves down to USF vs ECU, and the Bulls cannot mathematically pass the Pirates. Therefore, unless UCF beats out Memphis in the standings, SMU will be the 1-seed. How this can happen: UCF’s final two games are vs Cincinnati (Sunday) and at USF (3/3). Realistically, they’re going to finish 1–1, landing them at 10–8 in the conference. After Memphis loses to Cincinnati tonight, they’ll fall to 8–7, meaning UC would need them to finish 1–2 to land at 9–9 and fall behind UCF. They have to play Houston at home (Sunday), Tulane at home (3/2), and SMU on the road (3/4). Tulane is virtually a guaranteed win and SMU is virtually a guaranteed loss. This means…

The Bottom Line:

As I tweeted out last night, UC’s AAC Tournament seed will likely be decided on Sunday at 5 PM as Houston heads to Memphis. The Bearcats need to be huge Cougar fans, because a UH win likely gives UC the 1-seed.

It’s possible I’ve made a mistake in here. If you’re reading the rules differently than I have, let me know. If you have further questions, also let me know. Go Bearcats. Just keep winning.