Reports have Memphis as latest Big East addition
TAMPA -- If the last wave of expansion -- Boise State, Houston and friends -- was a Big East move to survive in football, then the latest news is a nod to preserving the league's basketball reputation, with national outlets reporting that Memphis will be announced Wednesday as an all-sports member of the conference starting in fall 2013.
Memphis is just 16-7 this season in men's basketball, with four of those losses coming to future Big East rivals. Josh Pastner, 34, is still looking for his first NCAA Tournament win in Year Three of the post-John Calipari era, but the Tigers have the basketball tradition and recruiting base to challenge for the top half of the Big East, something none of the league's other recent all-sport additions can reasonably boast.
It isn't a move that will help the Big East in football, other than to insulate the league from the next round of expansion. Memphis is 5-31 in the last three years, including a 2-22 mark in Conference USA, and to find a win against an actual BCS-league opponent, you have to go back to 2004, when DeAngelo Williams led the Tigers past Mississippi on the way to an 8-4 mark. By the time Memphis arrives in the league, it may have lost another round of schools, with the Big 12 still eyeing Louisville, or the ACC eyeing teams if the Big 12 tries to loot their presence in the Southeast.
New Tigers football coach Justin Fuente, just 35, was at one point heading to the Big East this fall as co-offensive coordinator at TCU, but the Horned Frogs opted for the Big 12, and he'll have a transition year in Conference USA before he has the challenge of not being the worst team in the new Big East. But this is basketball season, and adding Memphis is a move that Louisville's Rick Pitino will heartily endorse, as should the conference's basketball half, which takes a big hit with the upcoming departure of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia.
FREE RIDE, FOOD: Hoping to boost its student presence at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, USF has chartered three buses to bring students downtown for Wednesday night's men's basketball game against Pittsburgh, with the first 50 promised a basket of wings at the Channelside Hooters. The transition year downtown while the Sun Dome is under renovation has seen a predictable drop in announced attendance, down 29 percent from last year to an average of 2,994 this season. Rutgers, averaging 4,926, is the only other Big East school averaging less than 7,000.
THIS AND THAT: USF softball opens its season with a doubleheader Friday on campus, and the Bulls' first 36 games are either in Tampa or at the Eddie Moore Complex in Clearwater. The first actual road game is March 28 at Florida. ... Skip Holtz's work on the recruiting Class of 2013 has a big weekend with the Bulls' Junior Day. With normal attrition in the next year, USF should be able to get its first full class of 25 scholarship recruits since 2009. That class had two players who won Super Bowl rings Sunday in Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and linebacker Jacquian Williams. Five of the six former Bulls players who have won Super Bowl rings have done so with the Giants or Patriots, counting Giants linebacker Kawika Mitchell in 2008 and Patriots reserves Kenyatta Jones and Scott McCready in 2002.