Conference USA’s basketball powerhouse in recent years became the latest team to switch league affiliations in the ever-changing landscape of NCAA Division I athletics when it accepted an invitation to become the 12th member of the Big East on Wednesday.
A year ago, adding a team from the Central time zone to a league historically made up of schools from the Northeast might have seemed silly (and perhaps it still does). But the 1,236-mile trip from Storrs, Connecticut, to Memphis is a mere stone’s throw compared to the nearly 3,000-mile flight from Storrs to San Diego State, making the Tigers a “perfect fit” in the new-look Big East, according to league commissioner John Marinatto.
“There were a number of contributing factors for our membership in making the decision to invite Memphis, including among other reasons its geography in the heart of our future membership makeup, its Central time zone presence, its top-50 media market, as well as its outstanding corporate and community support, quality athletic facilities and the overall brand and competitiveness of its athletic programs,” Marinatto said.
For those who have already lost track with all the recent conference upheaval, here’s the run-down.
Current members in all sports: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, West Virginia.
Current non-football members: Marquette, Notre Dame, DePaul, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, Villanova
Incoming full members for 2013: Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist
Incoming football-only members: Boise State (2013), Navy (2015), San Diego State (2013)
So, barring more movement, your 2015 Big East football conference will look like this: Boise State, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Louisville, Memphis, Navy, Rutgers, San Diego State, South Florida, SMU.
That’s a lot of airline miles for universities to cover, but such costs are merely an afterthought in the mad scramble to find a financially sound conference home.
“It certainly is an historic day for us,” University of Memphis President Shirley Raines said during a teleconference with Big East Commissioner John Marinatto and Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson.
Historic indeed. But whether the conference bares any resemblance to its projected form when Navy joins in 2015 is anyone’s guess. While bringing in Memphis helps the league counter the losses of Syracuse and Pittsburgh on the basketball court, what’s to say Connecticut or Louisville wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to find a more prominent football home?
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