What Does Getting into the Big East Mean for Memphis?
The University of Memphis finally joins the ranks of some of their fellow former C-USA programs and has accepted an offer to join the Big East, a BCS qualified conference.
Memphis has had the Big East on their radar for many years. In 2005, when the Big East plucked South Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati from C-USA and left Memphis out in the cold, the malaise in the city of Memphis was hard to ignore.
Now Memphis finally has a chance to show the Big East why they deserve to be in a major conference.
What does this mean for Memphis in terms of football and basketball? Let's find out.
This is probably the most important aspect of getting into a BCS conference for Memphis. Much like all the other Non-AQ schools, Memphis has played second fiddle in their own backyard when it came to recruiting.
The city of Memphis is in the heart of SEC country. And with Memphis' football program weak and laboring away in C-USA, SEC schools simply would poach what they want out of the city during national signing day. For example, this year, twenty-five football players signed with Division I schools out of the city of Memphis. Of that twenty-five, 11 signed with SEC schools and only six signed with the Memphis Tigers.
Getting into the Big East certainly doesn't mean that Memphis will be able to stop, say, Alabama from taking what they want out of the city.
However, it does mean Memphis will finally have a competitive story to talk about. It does mean that programs like Ole Miss, Miss State and Tennessee are now going to have to work for their recruits out of the city of Memphis.
Look for Memphis' football program to get better, certainly in terms of talent on the field.
Basketball Will Have to Step It Up
Unlike many other schools known for their basketball prowess, such as Duke or Syracuse, Memphis has very little competition in their conference.
Memphis has to beef up their non-conference basketball schedule every year in order to get a shot at getting into the NCAA Tournament. If Memphis were to lose in the C-USA Tournament without a strong non-conference schedule, they'd be forced to play in the N.I.T due to the overall weakness of the C-USA in basketball.
Despite this, Memphis does bring a storied basketball program to the Big East: three Final Four teams, six Final Eight appearances, 11 Sweet Sixteen appearances and 23 appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Memphis also has an all-time winning record against ACC, Big 12 and SEC programs.
Getting into the Big East means the basketball program is going to have to get used to bringing their "A" game every week. The conference is no longer theirs to lose. The Big East is the strongest basketball league in D-1. Even losing Pittsburgh and Syracuse next year leaves the Big East a fearsome basketball conference with UConn, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame among others.
Memphis is currently 127-140 all time against Big East schools in basketball. Needless to say, this means Memphis basketball will need to step it up if they want to be contenders in the conference.
No More SEC Obsession
It is not uncommon to hear on sports radio in the city of Memphis: Tiger fans spend time and effort enjoying the failures of Ole Miss or Tennessee, especially in football. Many Tiger fans have an unhealthy obsession with both the Rebels and the Vols. This sort of attitude has to stop today.
Now that Memphis is no longer a bridesmaid, but a bride in a BCS conference, Memphis has to get out from under the shadow of the SEC once and for all. That means no longer scheduling games with Tennessee, Ole Miss or Mississippi State.
When the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez landed his ships in Mexico in the 1500s, the first thing he did was have his sailors burn the ships, so there was no looking back—it was looking forward or nothing. Memphis fans and the program can't expect to be successful in the Big East if they still harbor inferiority complexes toward their local SEC schools.
Memphis needs to focus 100 percent in the Big East on their old rivals like Louisville and Cincinnati or making new rivals with programs like Boise State.
The New A.D. Must Make Football a Priority
Without belaboring the point, I have written about this before. The out-going A.D. for Memphis, RC Johnson, never made football a priority. He was happy with Memphis being just a "basketball school." If Johnson had been A.D. for a non-football school like a Marquette or DePaul, he would have been dynamite.
Johnson plans to retire this June. The university is currently doing a candidate search for their next A.D. It will be important now that Memphis is in a BCS-qualified league that football is made the top priority. Memphis can no longer allow its administration or its fans to have a policy of benign neglect toward its football program.
Here are some upgrades Memphis should give football: making improvements to its facilities; increasing the pay of assistant coaches; upgrading the press box and Jumbo-Tron at the Liberty Bowl; and improving the quality of the non-conference schedule (for example, stop playing FCS schools).
As a matter of a long-range goal, an on-campus stadium should be considered. Several years ago, Johnson paid $180,000 for a feasibility study on such a stadium, and the report came back and said it was not only feasible but could be paid for.
The new A.D. should dust off Johnson's copy and consider it. After all, when Central Florida left the Citrus Bowl for their new on-campus stadium, attendance jumped 161 percent for football games. The same could happen for Memphis.
Memphis Football Fanbase
Memphis fans simply have to get engaged with the football program. Memphis' home game against Marshall last year had an estimated 2,500 people in attendance. In 2009, before an ESPN national audience, only 4,117 fans showed up to watch East Carolina beat Memphis 38-19.
Tiger fans have no excuse now. They are now in the "big leagues" and should consider it humiliating to ever have their football program suffer through 4,117 or 2,500 people at a home football game. Granted, since 2007, Memphis football has nearly hit rock bottom—1-11 in 2010 and 2-10 last year under former head coach, Larry Porter.
In 2010, Memphis was ranked 84th out of 120 Division I teams for home attendance. As bad as that is, it was still better then Tulane, Tulsa and SMU from C-USA.
The goal for Memphis and the alumni is to get the fanbase as excited about football as they are about men's basketball.
Memphis Football Schedule
One of the reasons Memphis has a difficult time drawing a fan base to games is the remarkably poor non-conference scheduling. Memphis every year feeds the fans a steady diet of Middle Tennessee State, Arkansas State and some FCS program for an easy win.
Today's Tiger fans may be surprised to know that back in the 1980s and most of the 1990s, Memphis' football program used to schedule teams such as Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), Southern Cal, Minnesota and Missouri.
Memphis is still going to be challenged to sell out the Liberty Bowl when UConn or Rutgers come to town. However, Memphis does have an opportunity to once again schedule programs like Florida State, which would not only help boost the program's credibility, but also improve attendance.
Just as Memphis should forget about SEC schools, they should also leave behind their annual Sun Belt games. Losing to Middle Tennessee was bad when Memphis was an C-USA program—it will be even worse as a Big East school. Playing the likes of MTSU and Arkansas State does nothing for Memphis.
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