Memphis not invited to Big 12. So what?

Now that the first Big 12 expansion list is posted and Memphis has been left off…What now?

Well, Memphis, better than anybody, should know being left out may not mean exactly what we think it means.

Go all the way back to 2011, a time when Memphis was a basketball school, not that its not  a basketball school now, but… anyway Memphis was a basketball school, and we were in the Conference USA. Conference USA in the recent years had been a place where we went to dominate, and take everyone’s best shot. (see photo below: Memphis UAB post game)

Dozier UAB

We played in the Grizzlies stadium (the beautiful Fedex forum), and others played in the… smaller stadiums and we were in the top 10 in national basketball attendance year after year and our coach was making the better part of 2 million dollars a year. This was Memphis.

Football, the main driver of any sports program, was searching for direction. We fired our perennial winning coach a few years earlier at the first sign of a losing season (because we were winning 7 games to 8 games instead of 9 games to national champions) and had hired the architect of recruiting from LSU who was now showing us that recruiting wasn’t everything.

The athletic facilities were steadily improving over the years.

And the buzz of the chance to move conferences was real and exciting. And it grew and grew until the announcement and this:

memphis times square billboard

We were ecstatic. And as a recent alumni and former student athlete myself this was the bees knees. The BIG EAST, THE Big east… It had a great ring to it and it seemed like it made sense for Memphis as a school.

Memphis was good at basketball and we would be able to compete against the best in the business multiple times per regular season. Louisville, Syracuse, Pitt, UCONN was just a list of who’s who in college basketball. And we COULD compete with them, after all we were a perennial top 25 team.

And as far as football, we may have had to take a few years to be able to compete, but playing against Louisville & Pitt could help recruiting.. and let’s be honest Big East football was not like the other major conferences football… and that became the problem.

Sensing this issue, and looking for the money that was promised in other conferences.. these major brands that we were so happy to partying with in the Big East began to flee to ACC. Syracuse & Pitt and then the following year Louisville. What was left UCONN…? This new look became evident to the TV stations and the other conferences and so a solution was drawn up.. Group the remnants of this new Big East together along with some others and call it the American Conference.. A repackaged and slightly upgraded C-USA, hence the app name.

Some teams remained in a vastly changed Big East and some teams remained in a changed C-USA. Many teams were winners of varying degrees. Syracuse and Pitt made it to the mighty ACC. Houston, Memphis & Temple moved to the stronger American Conference. But it wasn’t the Big East and it wasn’t what we all thought. We showed up to a party just in time to see the music being turned off. And I think, in some ways, the same applies here with the Big 12.

According to ESPN, Memphis came with too much financial backing in its Big 12 bid. (With most of that marginal comparative elevation in backing coming from Fedex) The University of Memphis president mentioned that this backing ‘would uniquely position the University of Memphis to request only a portion  of new revenue for several years until renegotiation of the conference media right agreement occurs.” Makes sense right? But, the Big 12s response is a curious one considering the makeup of the other candidates.  The Big 12 responded that is not considering Memphis because it is more interested in teams that can strengthen and add value to the league as to opposed to schools that need to be “propped up” by the league. But as Kristi Dosh of Forbes reported, Memphis ranks last among the candidates in received institutional subsidy. Although this is not a surefire gauge of financial contribution to athletics, this subsidy level combined with Fedex’s explicit support makes the Big 12’s response in these early rounds of elimination… Odd.

Only time will tell how this all plays out, but with $25 million per year per expanded team needing to be paid to the Big 12 teams, the negotiated media contract in 2024 may look a lot different than its predecessor. (Especially if Kansas and/or Oklahoma and/or Texas have gone on to greener pastures) Consequently, just as before, being left off the Big 12’s first 11 may not mean what we all think it means right now. 




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