News Flash: Memphis hopes for Big Six move

Memphis wants to move out of Conference USA and into a Big Six league. But does any elite conference want the Tigers?

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported Wednesday that Memphis has hired former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese to serve as a consultant. He will evaluate the school’s programs and recommend what it needs to do to better position itself to join one of the nation’s top leagues.

Tranghese was hired Aug. 1 and is being paid $5,000 per month on a six-month contract, which can be renewed; the money is coming from privately donated funds. Tranghese asked Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson what his duties would be; Johnson’s response: “There are six BCS conferences. Just get us in one.”

Memphis has been a member of Conference USA since the league’s formation in 1995. The Tigers saw C-USA brethren Louisville, Cincinnati and USF bolt for the Big East after the 2004 season, bringing that conference’s football-playing configuration to eight schools. Tranghese has said Memphis was left behind then “because our football people just felt they had to be in Florida.”

Now, Memphis is making noise about trying to join the big boys once again and the most logical destination is the Big East, where it already has established rivals in Louisville and Cincinnati.

But not everyone is on board with that idea.

“If we are going to add someone, it has to be someone who is really special,” said a Big East athletic director who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You tell me – would you add Memphis?”

Memphis would seem to bring little from a TV-market standpoint [the city is the nation’s No. 50 TV market]. The football program historically has been average to below-average, though coach Tommy West has enjoyed one of the school’s best runs in recent history in guiding the Tigers to five bowls in the past six seasons.

There are some who feel the addition of a ninth team would make scheduling easier. As it stands, there are just seven conference games per season, meaning half of the Big East schools have only three league home games each season.

“I don’t buy that,” the Big East A.D. said. “I have scheduled for four or five non-conference games, and I’m not sure it really makes any difference.”

Basketball has been Memphis’ strength, which dovetails nicely with the Big East. But Memphis currently is under investigation by the NCAA for major violations and recently lost coach John Calipari to Kentucky. And while the Big East features eight football-playing members, the conference has 16 teams in its basketball configuration. To make room for Memphis, would someone be asked to leave?

Add it all up, and Memphis could be facing long odds.

“I can say that Memphis never is mentioned in any discussions we have about expanding,” the Big East A.D. said. “I just never hear their name.”

Illini lose Wilson

First, Illinois opened the season with a thud, losing to Missouri 37-9. Now, junior linebacker Martez Wilson will undergo season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck.

The Fighting Illini (5-7 last season) were counting on Wilson to be a key part of a defense that had much to prove. Coaches had moved him from outside to middle linebacker with the hope that Wilson finally would fulfill his vast potential. He suffered a stabbing in the offseason, but was able to return to play.

With Wilson out, Illinois will turn to redshirt freshman Evan Frierson. And the Illini must adjust quickly. While Illinois is off this weekend, its next three games are against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State.

Early interconference action?

North Carolina will play LSU in next season’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Looking toward 2011, there is speculation that North Carolina State will play Tennessee in what has become the nation’s premier season-opening event.

The game has become a great showcase for the ACC and SEC. It makes you wonder why, say, the Big Ten and Big 12 don’t try to stage a similar event in a city such as St. Louis. Or maybe the Big Ten and Pac-10 could hatch a plan to meet in a game in alternating years in, say, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Franchione backs Tressel

Ohio State fans had to find some way to vent after their team fell to USC 18-15 last Saturday night. It was the Buckeyes’ latest flop against an elite team from outside the Big Ten.

Ohio State’s offense struggled against USC’s rebuilt defense, gaining just 265 yards. One reaction has been a call for Ohio State coach Jim Tressel to relinquish play-calling duties because he’s considered too conservative.

Former Alabama and Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione, for one, feels Tressel is doing just fine. This decade, Tressel has led Ohio State to five Big Ten titles [including the past four], three BCS title games and one national championship.

“Each coach has to do what is best for him” Franchione said. “I called my own plays. I felt this was my shot to make it, and I wanted to be the guy calling plays. I felt it was best for me, and I am sure Tressel feels the same way.”

Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis once again is calling plays this fall, and other notable coaches who call plays include Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez, Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly and Texas Tech’s Mike Leach.

“I’m not sure exactly what a wholesale change would entail,” Tressel said at his weekly news conference. “I mean, are we going to go to the Navy triple option? Probably not. Will we go conceptually to this or that? If you look at our teams from 2001 on, they haven’t been exactly the same because, you know, you don’t have the same people. But I don’t know that we would make a wholesale [change].”

Expect Ohio State’s offense to show marked improvement the rest of the season. The offensive line will continue to get better. But more than anything, the Buckeyes will benefit from playing defenses not of the same caliber as USC’s. In fact, Ohio State won’t face a daunting defense until it travels to Penn State on Nov. 7.

“Coach Tressel knows what he’s doing,” Franchione said. “Calling plays is his area of expertise and he feels he’s most qualified on his staff to do it. I know when I did it, it caused me to put in a lot of hours, but I felt it was worth it. Things will be OK for Coach Tressel.”

Tom Dienhart is the senior national college football writer for Follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at
Updated Thursday, Sep 17, 2009