Memphis Reportedly Looks to Join Big 12 as Part of Potential Expansion

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2016

MEMPHIS, TN - SEPTEMBER 20: 'Pouncer', mascot of the Memphis Tigers poses for a photo during a game against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on September 20, 2014 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.  Memphis beat Middle Tennessee 36-17. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

The Memphis Tigers football program has been on the rise the past couple of seasons, and it reportedly wants to continue that ascension all the way to the Big 12.   

According to Phil Stukenborg of the Commercial Appeal, “Memphis is among several schools seeking a move to the more lucrative Power Five conference, and the Big 12 may be considering two additional programs to get to 12.”

Memphis is currently in the American Athletic Conference.

This comes after the Big 12 hired Navigate Research to study the conference’s position in the national landscape. Stukenborg noted Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced the firm’s findings, which said “adding two teams would increase the league’s chances of being in the four-team College Football Playoff by ‘4-5 percent.’”

The Tigers would apparently love to be one of those two teams because university president M. David Rudd sent a promotional publication to University of Texas president Dr. Gregory Fenves back in December that highlighted the city of Memphis’ Fortune 500 companies, other attributes of the school and the recent run from the football team that went 19-7 the last two years, per Stukenborg.

The purpose of the promotion—titled “Memphis Soul of a City”—was to raise the idea of Memphis as a Big 12 expansion candidate.

Rudd even tweeted a link showcasing the school and its athletic achievements:

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Stukenborg pointed out Memphis isn’t the only program from the American Athletic Conference that is looking to join the Big 12. He listed Cincinnati, Central Florida, Connecticut and Houston as other potential candidates, as well as football independent BYU.

To the Tigers’ credit, they have quickly developed into a winning football team after a few lackluster seasons:

Memphis Tigers from 2009-15
201410-3Miami Beach Bowl (W)
20159-4Birmingham Bowl (L)

Head coach Justin Fuente was with the program since 2012 and was the architect behind the turnaround, but Virginia Tech hired him to replace the retired Frank Beamer. It will be up to former Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to maintain that momentum after the Tigers hired him as Fuente’s replacement.

Memphis will also need to replace quarterback Paxton Lynch, who was selected by the Denver Broncos at No. 26 in the first round of Thursday’s NFL draft. Lynch threw for 3,776 yards and 28 touchdowns last season for the 9-4 Tigers and helped them knock off the SEC’s Ole Miss and start a perfect 8-0.

As for the Big 12, it has made the College Football Playoff one time in the system's two years of existence. Oklahoma lost to Clemson in the national semifinals last season, but there was a feeling the selection committee left the conference on the outside looking in during the 2014 campaign.

Ohio State leapfrogged both Baylor and TCU that season when the final standings were released after the Buckeyes destroyed Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Big 12 did not have a corresponding championship game, which gave Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s team one final opportunity to showcase its talent on a national stage.

Ohio State went on to win the national championship that year, but Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder indicated that expansion from the Big 12 may be an overreaction to a unique situation involving one of the country's top programs from 2014:

While that may be the case, the possibility of joining a Power Five conference like the Big 12 would be a major opportunity for Memphis and the next step for a program on the rise.