Potential Big East Addition: Memphis?

Monday, December 22, 2008

In regards to football, the Big East Conference is too small. It would be ideal to expand by at least one and have a ninth team take the field for the conference. Could the Memphis Tigers be that team? Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson seems to think so as revealed in an interview by Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal (h/t to Brian Bennett at ESPN for this find).

Here are some primary nuggets in the interview that should get everyone's attention:

GC: To the BCS point, where do you think Memphis is right now? What are the
chances that Memphis will be in a BCS conference in, say, 10 years?
really believe we will be. I really do. I think there will be some shakeup
GC: When you say, "I really believe we will be," put a number on it. What
are the chances?
RC: I think 80 percent. I think it's a strong

80%?! Fairly presumptuous if you ask me, but hey, I'm not sitting in on meetings between the school and Big East officials, so this may almost be in the bag for all I know!

RC: See, I think we're still seeing the evolving of changes. Lou Holtz said
the other day that we ought to do away with all this. Everybody should be in the
BCS. Every conference should add two teams. I know that sounds way out there.
But if you and I were talking six years years ago and we said Cincinnati and
Louisville were going to be in the Big East, we would have said that's way out
The thing that we've got going for us is how well our programs are
doing, Central time zone, airport is easy to get in and out of. Now, people
don't all buy it but the truth is location did hurt us last go-round. That is a
factor. The ultimate thing for us, we should be in the SEC.
GC: But that's
not going to happen.
RC: Yeah. So you look around at the leagues, at our
opportunities, and I've contacted every league, from the Pac-10 to the Big Ten,
I've contacted them all. And the truth is that the only realistic opportunity
for us right now would be the Big East because the SEC isn't going to happen.
You keep hearing about Colorado going back to the Pac-10, Arkansas going back to
the Big 12, yada yada yada. Missouri may be going to the Big Ten so they can get
an even number. All those conversations. Every time I'm at an NCAA meeting those
conversations come up but I don't see it happening. I think the most realistic
opportunity for us is the Big East.
So what we're doing, we're going to make
ourselves the best we can possibly be in Conference USA. We have to make sure
our academics are online, we have to make sure our high-profile sports are doing
well and that our other sports are showing. That's why what baseball is doing
for us is really good. Back-to-back soccer championships is really good. I visit
with athletic directors of other leagues on a regular basis. I make a point of
doing that to try to always position ourselves.

There's a lot of stuff in there, but R.C. makes some valid points and it sounds pretty cut-and-dry that he wants to get Memphis into the Big East.

My thoughts:

  1. Basketball is the primary obstacle to this equation working. Memphis has a quality high profile hoops program, but the Big East is overloaded at this point (a curse of having been a "basketball first" conference at its inception). One of two things needs to happen: either the Big East needs to cut ties with some or all of its basketball only program, or it needs to create a "basketball only" division of the conference. Given the history of some of the rivalries in the conference(read Syracuse/Georgetown), the first option is pretty much off the table. The second option is actually kind of intriguing and very doable. As a matter of fact, it could become a model for other conferences. Couldn't you see the PAC 10 wanting to add Gonzaga for bball? Or the SEC adding Creighton, ACC adding Dickinson, etc.? Not bad eh?

  2. I like the location. Despite all the banter about Memphis being too far West to be in the "Big EAST," it's still East of the Mississippi River (good enough for me). And when you see schools like DePaul and Marquette in the conference, who cares anymore? Memphis is a solid-sized market with an appreciation for sports. I think fans in the area would welcome the possibility of their Tigers making a BCS bowl every year.

  3. The facilities are lacking, but that should not be a sticking point. According to the article, strides are already being made in this department by the renovation of locker rooms and gym facilities. Yes, the Liberty Bowl is old, but I like the idea that this stadium has traditional value. The Liberty Bowl game is one of the more traditional and celebrated non-BCS bowls, and the facility it's played on has at least some of the cache of stadiums such as the Rose and Orange Bowl. If you pour money into this place, it can be a solid place to play football for years to come.

All things considered, I support this move if it ever happens. The Memphis area market, the quality of the program along with other sports (namely basketball), and the prospect of being able to revolutionize the way conferences are organized are all positive factors in this potential scenario. Most importantly, it would also add another quality Barbecue destination to the Big East docket (Syracuse--Dinosaur BBQ and Louisville). Either way, I'd stay tuned now that this is all out in the open.