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What They're Saying - Reactions To The Big East's Addition Of Memphis

The Louisville-Memphis Rivalry could be back as soon as 2013.
The Louisville-Memphis Rivalry could be back as soon as 2013.

With the news coming yesterday that the Big East is set to announce Memphis will join the conference as a full member in 2013, pundits across the country were quick to add their opinions on the move. As one might expect, those who focus mostly on the short term football side of things are critical of the move while those looking primarily at the basketball side of the move are pleased. Still, this is a move that impacts all sports, so the reaction should be mixed at best. Memphis finished ranked no. 169 in the 2010-2011 final Director's Cup standings. So it isn't just football that is struggling at Memphis. Nevertheless, Memphis is a very good basketball program in a wonderful southern city that has a talent base to draw on for other sports with the right people and infrastructure in place. Here's a look at what people in Memphis and around the country are saying about the move.

  • Kyle Veazey in the Memphis Commercial Appeal has an extended piece on the Memphis move to the Big East that is well worth your time (everything Kyle writes is worth your time, but especially this). Veazey notes that Memphis will stand to gain more financially from an increased television contract payout in the new Big East than it currently enjoys in Conference USA or would see in the proposed Conference USA-Mountain West Conference merger. Conversely, the Tigers will now be competing with several schools that spend significantly more money on football and basketball, whereas they were one of the biggest spenders in Conference USA.
  • Geoff Calkins, also in the commercial appeal, writes that this is a very big day for Memphis sports for a number of reasons: the return of an old rivalry (Louisville), the chance to play against elite Big East basketball teams, and perhaps most importantly, the connection to a far better conference than Memphis would have been left in after all of the realignment moves are finished.
  • Meanwhile, Jason Smith writes that Memphis basketball is a very good fit for the new Big East, and that the Tigers should compete with the league's best right away. It will make the competition much more difficult, but gone will be the days when Memphis could only afford to lose one or two conference games in order to gain a good NCAA Tournament seed.

This is not a great development for the Memphis basketball coach.

Granted, it doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. But there's a reason John Calipari went from a coach who won just one NCAA tournament game in his first five seasons at Memphis to a coach who went to a Final Four, two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16 in his last four years, and it's not solely because somebody (allegedly) took Derrick Rose's SAT. The rise to prominence coincided with Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette getting the hell out of Conference USA and leaving Memphis as the only school in the league that funded its basketball program like a national power. Suddenly, nobody else in C-USA could recruit like Memphis or travel like Memphis or pay its coach like Memphis, and the Tigers started overwhelming the league in the exact same way -- and for exactly the same reasons -- that Gonzaga had been overwhelming the West Cost Conference.

Those advantages disappear the day Memphis moves to the Big East.

Saying that the Big East will be significantly weaker come 2014 — if not sooner — doesn’t fully illustrate the league’s cloudy future. Adding Memphis gives the Big East one of the worst programs in college football, and not merely in recent terms. The Tigers are 5-31 since 2009, a period that spans Tommy West’s final year and the entirety of Larry Porter’s disastrous two-year tenure.

But it's not merely over the last three years that the Tigers have scraped rock bottom. Memphis doubles as one of the weakest football programs in college football on a historical level. No conference hardware of any kind since the Missouri Valley championship in 1971 — the Tigers went 5-6 that fall. Zero double-digit win seasons since 1940. A career mark of 43 games under .500.


  • Matt Hinton (Dr. Saturday), writes that the Big East is all but giving up as a major football conference with the addition of Memphis. From his article:

Whether it will still qualify as a major conference, on the other hand, is another question entirely. In the first place, there's a better-than-even chance the BCS will be doing away with "automatic qualifier" status altogether in its next contract, which takes effect in 2014 and will probably be approved with no provision for compelling one of the four big-money games to take the Big East champion costing the conference millions if it can't produce a BCS team purely on its own merit. And the barrier will be higher than ever.

Stay tuned to Big East Coast Bias and our Big East Expansion section for more news on the subject.