Memphis is launching an internal investigation into allegations of a possible conflict of interest after athletic director Tom Bowen signed head basketball coach Josh Pastner to a contract extension in 2013, per Marc Perrusquia of the Commercial Appeal.
According to the Tuesday report by Perrusquia, the school will look into Bowen's relationship with NextLevel Sports, the agency that represented Pastner during contract negotiations. School president M. David Rudd released a statement Tuesday regarding the investigation:
The University of Memphis has been made aware of the accusations, and in accordance with University and TBR (Tennessee Board of Regent) policies, will immediately launch a comprehensive investigation. The University is in the process of retaining an outside source to conduct the review. Upon completion, a public statement will be made concerning the findings.
Perrusquia reported NextLevel ceased representing Bowen by the time the school was working with Pastner on a new deal. However, Bowen has maintained a relationship with the company in a nonpaid capacity, hosting the NextLevel-sponsored 2014 Collegiate Athletics Leadership Symposium.
USA Today's Dan Wolken downplayed the significance of Pastner's and Bowen's connections with the agency:
Memphis extended Pastner's contract four years after he replaced John Calipari as the Tigers' head coach. During that time, the school made three trips to the NCAA tournament, exiting in the round of 32 on each occasion.
Kyle Veazey reported in May 2013 for the Commercial Appeal that the contract essentially runs through the 2019-20 season and pays Pastner $2.65 million a year. Far more concerning, especially now, is the fact Memphis would have to pay him the balance of whatever is left on his contract if he's fired before the contract automatically renews in 2018-19.
Memphis has already announced Pastner will return for next season. Part of the reason for the decision might be the fact the school would've owed him $10.6 million if it parted ways with him at the end of the 2015-16 season—the biggest buyout in college basketball history, per CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish.
While the terms of Pastner's contract are favorable for the coach, Perrusquia noted R.C. Johnson, Memphis' previous athletic director, agreed to a similar deal with Justin Fuente to be the school's football coach.
Fuente ultimately left to succeed Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. Had Memphis fired him before then, the Tigers would've been on the hook for 70 percent of his remaining salary.
Whether or not this development jeopardizes Pastner's future, Memphis will hope next year goes better on the hardwood than this year did. The Tigers finished 19-15 and missed out on the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
Also concerning is the fact attendance for games has fallen to the extent the school may not receive its $800,000 annual payment from the Memphis Grizzlies, per the Commercial Appeal's Phil Stukenborg. If Pastner is still the coach next year and the program continues to stagnate, the Tigers might have no choice but to send him packing.