Just when you thought it was all over, the Big 12 has reversed course and pulled schools across the country back into the murky waters of college realignment. After going back and forth for months on the subject, commissioner Bob Bowlsby surprised many in the college athletics world at the league’s media days by saying the Big 12 is essentially opening its doors to new members.
There should be no shortage of schools that want to walk through those doors to join the Power Five club and Bowlsby’s phones are likely to be ringing off the hook over the next six to nine months. While the latest round of musical chairs won’t be quite as involved as in recent years, it nevertheless should make for a fascinating 2016.
Three Reasons Why Memphis Should Join the Big 12
Headquartered in Memphis, FedEx has been a key factor in the city’s resurgence the past few decades and has helped out considerably on the sports scene. Founder Fred Smith is a big proponent of Tigers athletics and seems willing to write a check tomorrow to make the company a big backer of the Big 12, especially the upcoming league title game. That close tie-in with a Fortune 500 company could also allow the school to pitch a better deal when it comes to receiving a partial share of revenues in the future too.
2. Historically strong basketball program
The Big 12 already has several powerhouse basketball programs and adding Memphis would make one of the deepest leagues in the country even deeper. The Tigers have dropped off a bit since John Calipari left but they’re typically in the NCAA Tournament every season and can get back to being a top-10 program under recently hired veteran Tubby Smith.
3. Lifeline to West Virginia while not being remote to others
Memphis sits just about right at the halfway mark between eastern-most member West Virginia and western-most member Texas Tech. It’s not a bad road trip away from the Oklahoma schools either and isn’t out of the way for Iowa State and other members. Aside from Houston, Memphis makes the most geographical sense for the Big 12 and has the added bonus of bringing a new TV market into the fold.
Three Reasons Why Memphis Shouldn’t Join the Big 12
1. No track record for sustained football success
Dating back to the days of Memphis State, the Tigers have had some fleeting success on the gridiron but have never been able to sustain it. Justin Fuente revived the program from the dark days it suffered under Larry Porter but nobody quite knows if first-time head coach Mike Norvell can keep the momentum rolling after two of the best years in program history.
2. It’s still in SEC territory
While Memphis’ geography makes sense from a Big 12 standpoint, pulling out and looking at the bigger picture still doesn’t change the fact that the city itself is located in the heart of SEC country. The state overall is firmly Tennessee orange and there are tons of Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans in the area as well. Chances are, if there’s a good player in Memphis, the Tigers are the last option and not the first.
3. Academic profile is lacking
Memphis is not ranked by U.S. News & World Report, which isn’t the end of the world but is notable because school presidents are the ones doing the voting, not coaches or administrators. The Big 12 is already behind its power conference peers when it comes to things like AAU membership and Carnegie I classification. Memphis adds zero to this part of the equation and would need at least a decade to play catch up to current members.
The Tigers would not even be on the Big 12 radar had they not hired Justin Fuente to salvage the football program from the bottom of the FBS ranks. But they did and have made progress in multiple areas to at least get a seat at the table when it comes to conference expansion. Are they the top target the Big 12 is considering? Hardly, but that doesn’t mean Memphis is out of the running by any stretch.
One just can’t discount the fact that they have a mega-booster in Fred Smith and corporate partner in FedEx however. That counts for a lot when you consider this round of expansion and realignment is being done almost all for the money. Memphis is a school on the way up based on all the moves university leadership has made and is very much a candidate for expansion that looks best when viewed from the big picture and not judged on the rankings it may hold.
If the Big 12 expands by just two schools, one can reason that other more attractive candidates will beat out the Tigers on a head-to-head basis. If the conference takes a more macro-level view of things though, Memphis has a chance — especially if four golden tickets are being sent out to schools across the country.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.