Monday, April 26, 2010

Conference Shopping for Memphis

Posted By on Mon, Apr 26, 2010 at 9:07 AM

There’s been a lot of discussion over expansion among the elite BCS conferences. Locally, we’re left to wonder where the University of Memphis might fit after all the musical chairs have been filled. Here’s one man’s view of potential new homes for a program desperate to consider itself among the big boys. (With respect to “nonrevenue sports,” this league shuffling is all about football and basketball, so I’ve kept the observations largely to the moneymakers.)

SEC:

This is a pipe dream. Sad truth: If an SEC-Memphis marriage was meant to be, it would have happened years ago. This league will poach members from the ACC before it approaches the U of M.

BIG TEN

PROS: These are all mighty athletic programs, among the largest in the country. And every school can claim some historical success on either the gridiron or hardwood or both. Tiger basketball would be fun to watch in the Big Ten, especially early in the transition, as Josh Pastner’s emphasis on running, frenetic play contrasts with the bruising reputation of programs like Purdue and Michigan State. In addition to big athletic programs, these schools have big student bodies, all but Northwestern with an enrollment in excess of 20,000. (Northwestern belongs in the Big Ten about as much as Sewanee belongs in the SEC.) Road trips would be to cooler climates, but would end up at many of the most famous football and basketball venues in the country.

CONS: The southernmost campus is Indiana’s, in Bloomington. Memphis would be the only school in a noncontiguous state. And in a league known foremost for its football, it’s hard to envision the Tigers competing with behemoths like Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, or even second-tier (but quite successful) programs like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Purdue. On top of all the packed football stadiums and tradition, though, every last school in the Big Ten has an endowment that tops $1 billion. The U of M isn’t even in that ballpark. This is a partnership that will never happen.

BIG 12

PROS: Similar to the Big Ten, this league features huge campuses (meaning lots of alumni, meaning big TV ratings). While Tiger football would have a hard time with the powers from Texas (the Longhorns and Texas A & M), Oklahoma, and Nebraska, one could imagine an upset over the likes of Texas Tech, Missouri, or Iowa State. Basketball season would feature one of the five most elite programs in history (Kansas), along with regular NCAA-tournament teams like Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Kansas State. A bonus would be seeing one of the best baseball programs in the country (Texas) visit FedEx Park.

CONS: Memphis would be an anomaly (along with Baylor) in not representing an entire state in its title. Seven of these schools have endowments in excess of $1 billion, the Longhorns leading the way at — wait for it — $16 billion. There are haves and have-nots in college sports. The Tiger program would be a have-not in the Big 12. By the way, seven Big 12 programs have football stadiums smaller than the Liberty Bowl. What’s wrong with this picture?

BIG EAST

PROS: Memphis basketball vs. Louisville, twice a season. That’s really all the argument needed here, but there’s more. Among the 16 member schools (counting Notre Dame, which does not compete as a football member), only three — Cincinnati, South Florida, and Rutgers — are significantly larger than the U of M. Six schools have enrollments of less than 10,000. Only four schools have endowments of more than $1 billion (Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Pitt). Five schools, like Memphis, take their name from the city where they are located. The day South Florida joined the Big East, the league gave up any semblance of a regional boundary, so Memphis would fit as a charter Mid-South member. Not only would the basketball team contend among some of the sport’s giants, but the Tiger football team would join an eight-member league with at least a fighting chance for three or four wins each fall.

CONS: The Tigers and Cardinals can’t play four times a season.

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