Tiger athletic director R.C. Johnson hosted a "State of the Tigers" luncheon Monday for media and Tiger boosters, an enthusiastic endorsement of his program both from a fiscal standpoint and on-the-field developments.
Johnson began by highlighting the academic success among Memphis athletes. The 2.94 GPA average for all athletes establishes a new record at the U of M. Both the football team and men's basketball team established new standards for their respective programs. Fifty-one percent of Tiger athletes in 2009-10 achieved a 3.0 GPA. "The academic progress we've made over the years has been phenomenal," said Johnson.
Johnson applauded both the men's and women's basketball program for exceeding expectations in 2009-10, and he noted the three consecutive conference titles won by the women's soccer team. ("And the entire team is coming back," said Johnson.)
Johnson presented a series of display boards with pertinent figures, both GPA numbers and fund-raising totals. When the topic of Memphis and a BCS conference came up, the board was filled with a giant question mark.
"The waters have calmed down recently [among BCS] conferences," noted Johnson. "We're going to be as committed and dedicated as we possibly can in Conference USA. But we also would like to be, and we should be, and we deserve to be in a BCS conference.
"We've learned a lot in the last few weeks. I'll tell you how we get into a BCS conference. First and foremost, is academics. We've come so far; we don't have to hide anything academically. Then there's football. The BCS is about football. I don't care if we have 19 NCAA championships; they want to know how we'll do in football. The third point is image and reputation. Number of TV sets, facilities, location. How involved is the community?"
Johnson publicly thanked a few in attendance — including Commercial Appeal publisher Joe Pepe — for their efforts in presenting the Tiger athletic department in a positive light. The positive vibe can be seen in the growth of the Tiger Scholarship Fund, which has grown from $5.2 million in 2005-06 to $7.3 million for the fiscal year ending Wednesday. Johnson thanked Memphis mayor A C Wharton and the City Council for backing the $16 million Tiger Lane project, a development that will transform the entrance to the Liberty Bowl from East Parkway.
Among other facility developments, Johnson mentioned the Frank L. Flautt Golf Center, the new softball complex, FedExPark, the new partnership between the tennis program and The Racquet Club of Memphis. A new weight room for the football team (13,000 sq. ft.) is scheduled to open by January 2011. And the Penny Hardaway Hall of Fame should open its doors in September (with an assembly room that will host 250).
Johnson finished by announcing two new members of the Ambassadors Club (donors of at least $500,000), bringing the total membership to 41.
"I want to thank everybody in this room," concluded Johnson. "We may not always agree with each other, but at least we're rolling in the same direction. It's a great day to be a Tiger, and we're not done yet!"