About seven years after the rest of Conference USA's upper echelon bolted to the Big East, it appears Memphis will finally join them.
CBSSports.com reported that Memphis is in "final negotiations" with the Big East to become an all-sports member of the league in 2013. An announcement that the Tigers are leaving Conference USA could come as soon as this week.
The appeal of the Big East is obvious for Memphis, which has long coveted an invitation from the league.
For Memphis basketball, it's an opportunity to gain exposure in a more prestigious league, to rebuild rivalries with Louisville and Cincinnati and to reward its loyal fan base by bringing better opponents to FedEx Forum on a nightly basis in conference play. And for Memphis football, it's a move to a BCS-affiliated conference and an opportunity to jumpstart a program that has crumbled amid apathy and neglect.
Like everything else in conference realignment, Memphis moving to the Big East would create a ripple effect that would also impact numerous other schools.
• Big East basketball programs who will be left behind when Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia leave in the next year or two should be pleased the league will add a brand-name team to help replace them. Previously announced all-sports additions such as Houston and SMU did little to improve the basketball in a conference that built its national reputation via that sport.
• Big East football programs cannot be thrilled at adding a Memphis program that has been among the worst Division IA teams in the nation the past five years. It's a fair criticism, however, with Memphis or without, Big East football still will be a distant sixth among the major conferences. Furthermore, unlike adding schools like Boise State and San Diego State in football only, this move isn't a short-term fix. Memphis can be a logical fit in the Big East if it can make strides in football over the next five years.
• The departure of Memphis would make a proposed basketball merger with Conference USA far less appealing for the Mountain West. Such a merger already would create an unwieldy travel schedule, but at least UNLV, New Mexico and their Mountain West peers had the allure of a visit from Memphis once every year or two. Without Memphis, the most appealing brand-name basketball programs in that league are Alabama-Birmingham, Tulsa or Southern Mississippi. Is a visit from one of them going to draw more fans or TV viewers than current Mountain West members? Probably not. The Mountain West would be better off scrapping the merger, adding Utah State and hoping San Diego State comes back if the unwieldy Big East football partnership crumbles.
• Unless Conference USA does manage to merge with the Mountain West in basketball, it looks like it may be a one-bid league more often than not. Tulsa is a decade removed from its basketball golden era. Alabama-Birmingham has been a fringe NCAA tournament contender in recent years. And while Southern Mississippi and Marshall are enjoying strong seasons this year, history suggests it will be difficult to win consistently at those schools.
Ultimately, if Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson can pull this off — and we've learned nothing is certain in conference realignment until it becomes official — it would be a major coup for the Tigers. For everyone else, however, there are plenty of pros and cons.
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