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Memphis brings hoops value to Big East

The University of South Florida has acquired another new dance partner in the Big East Conference. Big East commissioner John Marinatto announced Wednesday that the University of Memphis will become an all-sports member of the league in 2013, the latest chapter in the conference's rapid evolution. Memphis, which will leave Conference USA, its home since 1995, adds great value in men's basketball. The Tigers, a 23-time NCAA tournament participant who reached the Final Four on three occasions, were the national runner-up team in 1973 and 2008. Its football fortunes have been sagging, though. Memphis football, which plays at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, is just 5-31 in the last three seasons. "We as a league have every confidence in Memphis' ability to rebuild a solid and competitive football program in the Big East Conference,'' said USF president Judy Genshaft, who chairs the league's CEO executive committee. "We also appreciate and respect its consistency over the past decade in basketball. We feel it would be an obvious fit to a conference that has prided itself on basketball excellence for over 32 years.''
Memphis clamored for a Big East invitation in 2005, when USF was added, but it was bypassed. It is the seventh school, and fourth from Conference USA, to sign up for future membership in the Big East since December. Marinatto said he's convinced that Memphis is committed to upgrading its football program and its basketball success "obviously speaks for itself.'' The Big East has achieved its goal of reaching a 12-school football league and a championship game could be held in 2015, when Navy is added to the conference. "Today's announcement allows us to achieve our goal to hold a conference (football) championship game in the very near future," Genshaft said Wednesday. Marinatto also he believes the Big East has assured its long-term stability. That was called into question last fall when Pittsburgh and Syracuse defected to the ACC, then West Virginia jumped to the Big 12. The Big East answered in December by accepting Central Florida, Houston and SMU as all-sports members, then Boise State and San Diego State as football-only members for the 2013 season. Navy then followed suit, also for football only. Marinatto has maintained that Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia are bound to Big East membership until July 1, 2014 because the conference's bylaws stipulate that defectors can't jump until a 27-month waiting period. West Virginia, which wants to join the Big 12 this fall, and the Big East are suing each other over the matter. Pittsburgh and Syracuse have said they intend to honor the Big East's waiting period. It's possible the Big East could have 14 football teams and 20 basketball teams in 2013. Memphis is just happy to be part of the crowd. Marinatto said geography was a factor in choosing Memphis over a school such as Temple, located in Philadelphia. He said the conference was looking for a school that would fit logically in a western division since the Big East's original footprint was concentrated in northeast. Marinatto wouldn't comment on when the Big East plans to release its football schedule and wouldn't speculate on whether the league would move to bring in Memphis or another school as an immediate 2012 replacement if West Virginia is cleared for a jump to the Big 12. The West Virginia/Big East decision is being watched closely by all league members. USF is scheduled to play at West Virginia next football season. As for Conference USA and the Mountain West, the conferences announced last year that they planned a football merger starting no later than 2013, with the possibility of expanding the agreement to other sports. Now it seems even more likely that the two leagues will join together. "Based on my conversations with Commissioner Marinatto, the Big East has now completed its future membership plan," C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said in a statement Wednesday. "If this is true, it is very helpful as we can now move forward with our plans in a more stable national environment." Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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