After basketball power houses Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia left the Big-East, Big East commissioner John Marinatto had no choice but to add The University of Memphis to the conference.
Since The University of Memphis was snubbed from when the Big-East invited five schools in 2005 from C-USA to join, Memphis has dominated C-USA. Most predominately their men’s basketball team, winning five C-USA tournaments within the past six seasons and appearing in the NCAA tournament 23 times, three of those times went to the Final Four. In addition to the great men’s basketball team, the fan base has a strength in numbers similar to that of any other major college basketball powerhouse. Although many would argue that the recent conference realignment happening around the nation is due to football and not basketball. The Big-East had to make a move to still be viewed as a relevant conference after losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.
When Memphis was left behind in the 2005 expansion, the University couldn’t be considered a legitimate athletic program simply because C-USA is viewed as a weak conference. Athletic Director of the University of Memphis, R.C Johnson tried many times to leave C-USA and now finally got the Tigers to the promised land, The Big-East. You could tell how happy he was to finally get the Tigers to the Big-East in the press conference.
As Dr. Shirley Raines, president of the University of Memphis, says in the press conference, “…we join several rivals from the past…” she speaks about the universities that Memphis had before those schools left for the Big-East. Before those schools made the move to the Big-East, Memphis had intense rivalry games with Cincinnati, and especially Louisville. The last time Memphis played Louisville as conference rivals was in the conference championship game, in which Louisville only won by one point.
In addition to the basketball powerhouse that Memphis offers, the city of Memphis itself is also an important part of the deal. Memphis is known to be the headquarters of FedEx. FedEx is a billion dollar company generating a net income of 1.2 billion annually. FedEx has been known to be very generous with their donations to the University of Memphis. FedEx has donated to build the University’s Fedex Institute of Technology and also is the main contributor to where the Tigers play their home games in the FedExForum. It seems that this move not only helps restore the Big-East’s strength in athletics but also a financial benefit to the conference.