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Big 12 Expansion Q&A: The Case for Memphis

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The big pockets of Federal Express have suddenly made the Tigers a frontrunner.

Will we need to get used to bi-annual trips to Beale Street and Graceland?
Will we need to get used to bi-annual trips to Beale Street and Graceland?
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we got the skinny on South Florida straight from the source, and then we let JT completely shatter their dreams. Because we're evil like that. Today, we zero in on the home of Elvis, leaning on the expertise of our pal Christopher Hondros (@greekpadre), who contributes to both Underdog Dynasty and Mountain West Connection.

Jon: First off, on a scale of 1-10, how badly does the fanbase want the Big 12 to extend an invite?

Chris: I would say about a 6. Memphis just lost a great head coach in Justin Fuente, but a distinct portion of the fanbase is sort of itching to leave after a couple goot-to-great seasons. However, I think that enough of the fanbase is comfortable staying and trying to dominate the AAC that I can't rate it higher.

Jon: How about the administration? Any sense of their enthusiasm beyond the obvious financial benefits?

Chris: With Houston, SMU, Tulane and others currently sitting pat in the AAC, I think there’s a sense of academic belonging as well as athletic belonging. Personally, I think if Memphis moves in conference expansion, Houston will move as a partner.

Jon: We'll get to the things which the suits will focus on -- money, academics, and success -- in a minute. What wacky benefits which the administrations don't care about at all would Memphis bring to the Big 12?

Chris: Well, if Memphis were to join…and BYU was asked also, you can expect a new generation of chair-bashing WWE-style action between these two teams. The 2014 Miami Beach Bowl turned into the Miami Beach Brawl after a BYU player sucker punched a Memphis player in the post-game handshake.

Jon: If Memphis joined, who do you think they'd quickly form rivalries with? What Big 12 cities are Memphis fans most excited about potentially visiting?

Chris: West Virginia would be the closest regional rival, while Kansas is a ready-made basketball rival. I would definitely want to go to Austin, for the weird and musical (and the food, don’t ever forget the food!).

Jon: Why do WE want to come visit Memphis? What's great about the city? What's the fanbase REALLY like (warts and all)?

Chris: It’s Memphis. Marc Cohn didn’t write a song about Walking in Lawrence. Memphis is home to jazz and blues music, and of course, Graceland. That said, culturally, Memphis is probably more aligned with the SEC, right College Station? It also allows you the opportunity for road trips centered around football and really amazing barbecue without having to slum it in North Carolina or (ugh) Saint Louis.

Jon: And now, the big one. Pretend we're the Big 12 Board of Directors. Why should we invite Memphis as opposed to anyone else? SELL US.

Chris: Memphis will bring competition in all sports, not just football. They have a pretty good TV market, and there is no shortage of recruiting talent. Finally, it’s no secret that West Virginia wants a travel partner; both Memphis and Cincinnati fill that void but I would argue that Memphis’ southern ties are more valued.

Houston? I thought you were trying to get out of the Texas fingerprint.

BYU? We’re not afraid of Sunday games.

Tulane? See “Competition.”

UCONN? AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH…oh wait, you’re serious? Let me laugh even harder

Cinci? What, you really want to add “chili on pasta” as part of the Big 12 culture?

Jon: After Chris answered our original wave of questions (last Tuesday afternoon), a bomb got dropped thanks to an open records request filed with West Virginia. That request revealed that FedEx is prepared to pony up a ton of swag to help, as certain businessmen like to say, grease the wheels of the Memphian candidacy. We reached back out to Chris for his take on that:

Chris: Let's move everything up to MEMPHISCON3. If admin has been writing and meeting with Gordon Gee and the FedEx chairman is prepared to sponsor ALL TEH THINGZ, I would say this is a little more than just wink-wink nudge-nudge.

"We strongly support the university's efforts to become a member of an expanded Big 12 athletic conference," Smith wrote to Rudd in a letter dated Feb. 23. "In support of [Memphis'] Big 12 aspirations, we have researched college conference sponsorships and are prepared to become a major Big 12 sponsor of football and basketball."
"We strongly support the university's efforts to become a member of an expanded Big 12 athletic conference," Smith wrote to Rudd in a letter dated Feb. 23. "In support of [Memphis'] Big 12 aspirations, we have researched college conference sponsorships and are prepared to become a major Big 12 sponsor of football and basketball."

Smith's quote pretty clearly gives the Big XII a damn good incentive to add Memphis above everyone else. This, of course, is all verbal with no legal weight behind it, but if there is a signature to a sponsorship like this, it'll be hard to say no to the Tigers.

That certainly is a home-run swing there for the Tigers. The question is whether they connect or just provide air conditioning for the fans in the front row seats. Jon himself is hanging a big "K" sign shortly. Tomorrow, we'll visit with representatives from the greatest women's basketball school on the planet, Connecticut.