Mailbag: Memphis and more expansion talk

December, 23, 2008
12/23/08
9:15
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Ho, ho, ho. It's almost Christmastime, so let's open up Santa's, er, my mailbag. As always, visions of expansion are dancing in my readers' heads:

Jim R. from Pittsburgh writes: Regarding Memphis ... I don't see where adding Memphis works for the Big East. I agree that there is no way to fit them into the basketball conference. For starters, Coach Calipari would fight the move. He's got a great thing going with C-USA and his recruiting is ludicrous. If the Big East is looking to add a 9th football member I would think Navy is the most logical choice, assuming they could join as football only. I have heard that Navy has rebuffed offers to join the Big East because they are afraid that they wouldn't be able to consistently compete in the major sports every year. However, I see no reason Navy could not win at least 6 games every year and make a trip to the Eagle Bank Bowl.

Brian Bennett: Well, it's clear that Memphis would love to join the Big East. It's not so clear whether the Big East wants Memphis. I think Calipari would have to go along with such a move or get out of the way if the call ever came because it's so important to the school. Rick Pitino said he wasn't all that excited about butting heads with the monstrous Big East basketball alignment, but Louisville needed it for football.

Anyway, let's talk about your point on Navy. It sure makes sense from a football-only situation, and the league really doesn't need anymore basketball teams. Would the Midshipmen be successful enough in the Big East to warrant such a move? It would make it harder for them to schedule wins. With eight league games, plus annual games against Army and Air Force and, presumably still, Notre Dame, that leaves only one free game for Navy to schedule each season. Considering that Towson State, Temple, Southern Methodist and Northern Illinois were on the slate this year, that might very well cut into Navy's ability to make bowl games consistently.


Chris from Wallingford, Conn., writes: Interesting article on Memphis. The argument against expansion coming from within the Big East is that there aren't any available schools that would help the league. I agree. The league is not in a place like it was a few years ago, when they were forced into expansion. They now have the luxury to be more selective in choosing the team (or teams) for expansion. The other issue is that I don't know if the league wants to add a football only school. The next expansion will be about football, not basketball or any other sport. There are currently 8 teams ranked in the top 25 in men's hoops. You think Memphis is really going to get anyone excited? I do think the league needs to add another football school though. And that school cannot be a patsy. If you look at the recent additions, all of them, with the exception of UConn, has a strong recruiting base. That will be crucial. I think at this moment in time the top 3 contenders will be UCF, East Carolina, and Memphis. UCF has the strongest recruiting base, but it's only about an hour's drive to Tampa, and USF will never allow that to happen. Memphis has a strong recruiting base as well, but will be in direct competition with a bunch of SEC schools. East Carolina has a decent market down there in the Carolinas and will most likely be competing with ACC schools. That may be the best option at this point in time

Brian Bennett: Good points, all, but every option has its drawbacks. East Carolina is farther ahead of the other two in football, but would the Pirates settle for being a football-only school in the Big East? Their basketball team brings nothing to the table, and league coaches and officials don't want to expand past 16 teams, anyway.


Andrew from Storrs writes: Why did the Big East take DePaul instead of Memphis or East Carolina when they expanded?

Brian Bennett: Two words: Chicago market.


Justin from Johnstown, Penn., writes: Your running back rankings are done very well but there should be an honorable mention of LaRod Stephens-Howling and how much he did for this Pitt team are there any other players that you feel were under the radar and deserve recognition for their team?

Brian Bennett: Stephens-Howling was a great glue guy who also contributed on special teams. I'd also mention another Pitt back, fullback Conredge Collins. He opened plenty of holes and was a valuable weapon in short-yardage situations.


KC Adams from Oakland, Calif., writes: Do you think this new "Head Coach in Waiting" trend is another subtle way for big schools to avoid having to go through interview processes with minority coaches? What do the Black Coaches Association say about this?

Brian Bennett: I honestly don't think that's the intention of most schools that have gone to that idea. I think they simply were looking for a way to keep continuity and not lose ground in recruiting while locking up a valuable assistant. However, in practice I do think it has hurt minorities from at least getting interviews. This is an idea that needs more discussion and debate this offseason, because the lack of African-American head coaches on the sidelines is a travesty.


Marc from Waynesburg, Penn., writes: I think it is time to revisit the Big East's future and bowl tie-in progress. With the rumors of the Big Ten's interest in Rutgers and in the past Pitt, and Syracuse, what has the Big East done to help its current members? What is the penalty for current members to leave the conference?

Brian Bennett: Securing better bowls is one of the highest priorities for the league and incoming commissioner John Marinatto. I think the St. Petersburg Bowl can help if that continues to grow, because at least it's in a desirable locale. The league probably needs to get out of Birmingham if at all possible. I don't think teams bolting the conference is a real concern in the near future, but there is no financial penalty for leaving at this time.


Tom Lambe from Cedar Grove, N.J., writes: Don't assume to low ticket prices is wholly due to the Big East. Louisville and West Virginia traveled well to their respective BCS bowls in the two past years. Rutgers traveled well to lower tier bowls in the past three years. Mor than any other reason, the low ticket sales is more due to Virginia Tech not wanting to travel to the same city two years in a row!

Brian Bennett: I never assumed that. The reason you're seeing FedEx Orange Bowl tickets being offered so cheap is that even if both schools fill their ticket allotment -- and Cincinnati is close to filling its 17,000 quota -- that's only 34,000 fans in the stands. Unfortunately, a Virginia Tech-Cincinnati matchup isn't going to entice many nonpartisan fans to buy the rest of those tickets, and many of the ones being offered at low, low prices were in areas where the schools' allotment would not place fans.


Nathan from Cincinnati writes: First team All-American by the AP, first team All-American by Rivals.com and All-American by the Football Writers Association of America ... yet Kevin Huber isn't even a finalist for the Ray Guy Award... What gives?

Brian Bennett: I confess I have no idea what criteria the Ray Guy Award voting is based upon. Huber should have won it last year but didn't. I was surprised to see Oklahoma State's Matt Fodge win it this year because he had so few attempts. Maybe they just pick names from a hat.


Keith from Parts Unknown writes: Agree with your assessment of DeAngelo Smith. Can you expla
in how in the world he was left off the official Big East first-, second- and third-team honors?

Brian Bennett: There was no third team All-Big East, but I was surprised to see Smith not make the second team, while Pitt's Aaron Berry did. Very strange. Maybe Smith's move to safety and back to cornerback confused the coaches doing the voting.


J.T. Thomason from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Brian, why did Louisville have so many games on days other than Saturdays? I do not recall a team ever with so many games on week nights. Thanks and keep up the good work. Merry Christmas!

Brian Bennett: It was nothing out of the ordinary for Louisville, which helped build its program by agreeing to play any night of the week in return for TV exposure. Now that the Cardinals have fallen on some hard times, it will be interesting to see if they remain in demand for those midweek games.

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