Memphis is the latest school to sign up for a spot in the new Big East.
A person familiar with the decision says Memphis is joining the Big East for all sports in 2013.. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an official announcement would be made Wednesday.
The Big East announced it would hold a teleconference with Commissioner John Marinatto, University of Memphis President Shirley C. Raines and Memphis Athletic director R.C. Johnson, though it did not give any details about what would be discussed.
Johnson said a new conference would be held in Memphis after the teleconference to discuss the university’s athletic affiliation.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) couldn’t wait until the news became official to celebrate.
”I am thrilled that my hometown team and alma mater the University of Memphis is being invited to join the Big East,” Cohen said in a statement. ”Joining the Big East will not only be great for the University of Memphis, but it will be an economic catalyst for the City of Memphis.
”Thanks to Louisville Coach Rick Pitino for his strong support. And Congratulations to Dr. Shirley Raines and R.C. Johnson.”
The Tigers will become the fourth Conference USA team to move to the Big East in the last two months, along with Houston, Central Florida and SMU.
CBSSports.com first reported Memphis was on the verge of joining the Big East.
Memphis is the seventh future member the Big East has added in the last two months, but the first that brings more value in basketball than football. The Tigers haven’t had a winning record in football since 2007, but the men’s basketball team has been a Top 25 mainstay.
The Big East is trying to replace basketball powers Syracuse and Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and create a football league with at least 12 teams. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference and West Virginia is headed to the Big 12.
The Big East has been adding new future members for the last two months. In December, Boise State and San Diego State agreed to join for football only in 2013, along with SMU, UCF and Houston.
Last month, the Big East announced Navy will become a football-only member in 2015.
When West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt will leave the Big East is still up in the air. West Virginia has sued the Big East in an effort to join the Big 12 in 2012. The Big East filed a countersuit trying to force WVU to abide by the conference’s bylaws, which require a 27-month notification period for schools to depart.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has said the league intends to hold West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse until the summer of 2014.
Memphis has been trying to move from Conference USA since being snubbed when the Big East expanded in 2005, losing a long-time rivalry with Louisville. A departure now would be pricey for the Tigers. The exit fee from Conference USA for 2013-14 is $500,000 plus Memphis’ share of television rights revenue, which is approximately $6.13 million, according to a league spokeswoman.
The Tigers have one of the strongest basketball programs in the country. Memphis had made 23 NCAA tournament appearances and lost in the national title game in 1973 and 2008. They also reached the Final Four.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been lobbying the Big East to add Memphis to help strengthen the league in basketball. Louisville and Memphis have spent years together first in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Metro Conference and Conference USA. Pitino again called out for league officials to consider Memphis after Louisville beat Memphis on Dec. 17.
”I’m just hoping the Big East gets smart and does something about that and allows them to come into the league,” Pitino said. ”I keep getting on the pulpit and saying this: We got hurt big time and we need Memphis. Memphis doesn’t need us, we need Memphis. We need Temple. We need to build up basketball again.”
Along with Louisville, Rutgers, Cincinnati, South Florida and Connecticut are the remaining Big East football schools.
Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Marquette, Villanova, DePaul and Notre Dame are the Big East schools that do not compete in the league’s football conference – but still help make up a strong basketball conference.
With John Calipari as coach, Memphis made four straight NCAA tournament appearances between 2006 and 2009. Josh Pastner, who took over when Calipari left for Kentucky in 2009, took Memphis to the NCAA tournament last season after winning the Conference USA tournament. Memphis will be hosting Conference USA’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in March.
Memphis football has played in five bowls since 2003, but all have been lower-tier games. Lately, the program has hit the skids. Memphis just hired Justin Fuente as its new football coach, replacing Larry Porter who was fired after going 3-21 in two seasons. The Tigers play football at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.