Big East? More like Big Lots! Anyone?

Wednesday February 8th, 2012

Football's version of Manifest Destiny is ripping the space-time fabric of the sport asunder. We accept this new age of ceaseless, often senseless expansion, albeit with much sniping. In these troubled times, resurgent survivalist instincts are perhaps to be expected (she said, from her secret blogging lair stocked wall-to-wall with bottled water and guns). But this latest development is five or six bridges too far to be believed. Memphis? To a (technically) AQ conference? There is transcontinental conquest, and then there is straight-up hoarding, and we need to talk about the Big East's behavior and its recent veer toward the latter.

No major-conference program is hankering to hitch its wagon to this sputtering star, so raiding the mid-majors is a necessity. But Memphis football is the stack of rotting newspapers in this scenario.

"But I need it!" No, Big East. You really don't. You're hurting your brand. You're hurting yourself. Memphis' financial straits regarding athletic revenue have been well-documented, its on-field product reviled as pale and listless. The Tigers haven't won more than two games in a season since a 6-7 2008 campaign that culminated in a 41-14 walloping by USF in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The last time they went to a bowl game and actually won was 2005. This is an addition in name only, and one that dilutes a football brand that can ill afford it. What's more: In moving away from Conference USA, Memphis is endangering a rivalry game with greatest trophy in the history of this sport or any other.

Here is an abbreviated list of schools that would have been better gets on this bargain-hunting spree: Air Force, Akron, Arkansas State, Army, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, BYU, Central Michigan, Colorado State, Eastern Michigan, East Carolina, Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Fresno State, Hawaii, Kent State, Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe, Marshall, Miami Ohio, Middle Tennessee State, Nevada, North Texas, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame football, Rice, San Jose State, Southern Miss, Temple, Toledo, Troy, Tulane, Tulsa, Utah State, UTEP, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan and Wyoming. (That is an alphabetical list of every other school unaffiliated with an AQ league we could name off the top of our heads on the first try. There are more. The only one we left off on purpose was UAB, because the Blazers are not as strong in basketball and because we expect the Alabama Board of Trustees likes the Blazers right where they are, twitching like butterflies on stick pins in a display box.) Meanwhile, a ceramic owl painted in variegated shades of cherry and white sits forgotten on a precariously laden shelf, next to a porcelain cat wearing a hand-knit Villanova scarf. If there's a bright spot in this ill-lit basement of irregular merchandise we are apparently going to insist on calling a BCS football conference, it's the elevation of Fred Smith into the Pickens-level pantheon of über-boosters. Remember that contested CBS report from 2010 that said Smith would be interested in pouring FedEx dollars into the Big East if it added Memphis? If the trickster spider-gods that govern this sport have any mercy left, they'll let Smith at least try his luck in Vegas to raise the C-USA buyout money. It's the only hope of entertainment we have left, faced with the specter of a Friday night in October with only a Louisville visit to a seven-eighths empty Liberty Bowl for distraction.

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