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Memphis to the Big East: A Good Fit?

Today, the University of Memphis is expected to announce that it is leaving Conference USA for the Big East beginning in 2013.  For some time, there has been discussion that the Big East should add Memphis to the conference, especially with the upcoming departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC.  Even legendary Louisville basketball coach, Rick Pitino, called for the conference to add Memphis to its stable of schools.  With Memphis set to announce its departure to the Big East today, is the pairing a good fit?

Basketball

One thing is certain:  The Big East is known for its basketball talent.  Last year’s NCAA Division I Basketball National Champion–UConn–hails from the Big East and the Big East Tournament held every year at Madison Square Garden is a favorite amongst basketball fans.

Memphis will arguably be set to compete with the Big East in terms of basketball.  The Tigers boast a 1,406-820-1 all-time win/loss record.  In 2008, the school was runner-up in the NCAA Division I Basketball National Championship game.  Since 2003, Memphis has made the NCAA tournament an impressive seven times.  The Tigers will likely make another run this March.

Facilities

While the Big East is known for its basketball talent, it is also known for the spectacular facilities its teams get to play their basketball games in.  Many basketball fans argue that the Big East tournament is one of the best each season, if only for the fact that it is played in Madison Square Garden.

Like St. John’s, which plays its home games at Madison Square Garden, Memphis also has an impressive basketball facility.  The Tigers basketball teams call the 18,119 seat FedExForum home.  The $250,000.00 million dollar state-of-the-art facility is also home to Memphis’ NBA team, the Grizzlies.  The facility boasts an impressive five levels and over 100 concession stands.  Built seven years ago, the FedExForum also has a 22×38 square foot scoreboard, which according to the FedExForum, is one of the largest in the nation.

Memphis also has a decent football facility in the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.  The 61,000 seat stadium underwent $19.5 million in renovations in 1987.  Telling by its name, it is also home to the Liberty Bowl game.

Given that Memphis has invested in its facilities, it is certain that other Big East teams and their fans will enjoy traveling to Memphis to watch their teams compete.

Finances

While Memphis’ facilities are certainly impressive, certain financial factors lead to questions as to whether the Tigers will be competitive in the Big East.

According to data obtained from the Department of Education, in both 2009-10 and 2010-11, neither the Memphis Football nor Men’s Basketball teams turned a profit.  In 2009-10, Memphis Football had expenses and revenues of $11,557,329.00, for a profit of $0.00.  In 2010-11, Memphis Football had lower expenses and revenues than those of 2009-10, at $8,609,503.00, for a profit of $0.00.  In 2009-10, Memphis Men’s Basketball had expenses and revenues of $6,113,027, for a profit of $0.00.  In 2010-11, Memphis Men’s Basketball had expenses and revenues of $6,739,131.00, for a profit of $0.00.

A profit of $0.00 is not necessarily a negative factor.  In 2010-11, Big East competitor Louisville turned a $27,551,289.00 profit with its men’s basketball team.  However, that same year, the UConn basketball team–which won the NCAA Division I National Championship–suffered losses of $417,181.00.  Thus, there clearly is a large range between the profits and losses incurred by Big East teams in a given year.  Arguably, as long as Memphis stays out of the red, it should be able to compete financially with other Big East members.

In terms of recruiting expenses, in 2010-11, Memphis ranked 40th in the NCAA, spending a total of $961,150.00 on recruiting for all of its teams and $759,844.00 for its men’s teams.  While ranking 40th in all of the NCAA is arguably an impressive feat, Memphis will likely have to increase its recruiting budget to keep up with those of its new Big East peers.

In 2010-11, the following Big East schools ranked and spent as follows in terms of recruiting:

Notre Dame:  3rd, $2,070,316.00

Marquette:  11th, $1,461,373.00

Louisville:  25th, $1,128,645.00

Thus, Memphis will now be recruiting against schools with much larger recruiting budgets.  As such, it would be in its best interest to attempt to spend at least $1,000,000.00 on recruiting for all of its teams combined.

Media

One factor about Memphis which is likely attractive to the Big East is its media presence.  Memphis ranks as the 48th largest television market.  While this number in and of itself does not scream huge media ratings for the Big East, it is important to compare how it stacks up to the media ratings of those schools leaving the Big East.

Arguably, in finding a new member, the Big East would want to find candidates on par with those schools leaving, so as to fill their “shoes” upon their departure.  Memphis nicely fits this mold.  While Pittsburgh was ranked the 23rd largest television market, Syracuse was ranked the 81st.  Thus, Memphis’ 48th ranking falls nicely in between Pittsburgh and Syracuse’s rankings, arguably pleasing the Big East.

In all, Memphis appears to be a worthy candidate for Big East membership.  If the Tigers can turn a profit and increase their recruiting expenses, Memphis should be largely competitive in the conference.

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