WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 22: Head coach Josh Pastner of the Memphis Tigers reacts to a call during a college basketball game against the Georgetown Hoyas on December 22, 2011 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
When Louisville coach Rick Pitino openly clamored for Memphis to be added to the new
C-USA Big East, it represented a sizable conflict of interest for a coach to hurl himself to the forefront of the conference realignment mess.
But considering the league's initial motivation for the expansion, you know, to drastically beef up things on the gridiron and line more, more, and more pockets with greenbacks, the opinions of a white-suited, gray-haired hoops coach seemed likely to fall on deaf ears.
Somehow, though, Pitino's well-traveled plea magically came to fruition over the last month. Today, the Memphis Tigers accepted a bid to become the seventh newcomer to join the Big East over the last year, and will join the league in the 2013-14 season. And, according to Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, this was the *final* move in Big East commissioner John Marinatto's often-boneheaded game of musical chairs.
"Based upon my conversations with commissioner Marinatto, the Big East has now completed its future membership plan," Banowsky said.
After all, Banowsky should be the guy to know when the Big East is done poaching teams since he's the one letting Marinatto yank all these schools out from under his feet to begin with. But here's the thing: If Memphis is legitimately the last piece to the puzzle here, then we have to ask, how on Earth did the Big East whiff so badly on the Temple Owls?
Situated right in the heart of Philly, Temple would have offered the Big East one of the most consistent basketball schools in the sport and a football program that has made legitimate strides over the last half-decade. Keep in mind that the Owls are sixth ALL-TIME in NCAA wins on the hardwood, behind only Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Kansas, and Kentucky. In many ways it would have been the best of both worlds to put the hoops team in a league it always belonged in anyway, and to give the football team an exponentially greater recruiting platform. But because of Villanova's identical location, the Big East clearly felt there was no market in Philadelphia to grow further, so they looked elsewhere. Ridiculous.
Memphis should have been the first target for Marinatto to set his sights on back in the fall, with Temple not far behind. Instead, because of dumbfounding agenda to overwhelm numerous time zones with a middling product, Marinatto took about the task of adding new schools in the reverse order, and now he's already filled up his league and still omitted one of the best options he had to choose from.
Everything will always be about money when it comes to decisions this large, and nationwide exposure was the underlying theme behind all of the Big East's additions over the last few months. But at some point, the sanctity of the league needs to be considered. Fans aren't stupid. If the product on the court/field is continuously taking a backseat to the pat-ourselves-on-the-back theory of pumping Big East sports into as many unique households as possible, well, then a second-rate conference might just emerge.