TAMPA — If the last wave of expansion — Boise State, Houston and friends — was a Big East move to survive in football, the latest news is a nod to preserving the league's basketball reputation, with national outlets reporting that Memphis will be announced today 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 losses coming to future Big East rivals. Josh Pastner is still looking for his first NCAA Tournament win in Year 3 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.
The move won't help the Big East in football, other than to insulate the league from the next round of expansion. Memphis is 5-31 in the past three years, 2-22 in Conference USA. Its last win against a BCS-league opponent was in 2004, when RB DeAngelo Williams led the Tigers past Mississippi on the way to an 8-4 mark. By the time Memphis arrives, the league may have lost another round of teams, with the Big 12 still eyeing Louisville or the ACC eyeing teams if the Big 12 tries to loot it in the Southeast.
New Tigers football coach Justin Fuente, 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 C-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 tonight'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 drop in announced attendance, down 29 percent from last year to an average of 2,994. 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 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 recruiting the Class of 2013 has a big weekend with the Bulls' Junior Day. With normal attrition in the next year, USF should get its first full class of 25 scholarship recruits since 2009. That class had two players who won Super Bowl rings Sunday in Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul and LB 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 LB Kawika Mitchell in 2008 and Patriots reserves Kenyatta Jones and Scott McCready in 2002.
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected] and at (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bulls and follow him at Twitter.com/gregauman.