Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Updated: February 8, 12:47 PM ET
Memphis joining Big East next year
ESPN.com news services
The Big East has invited Memphis to join the conference in all sports in 2013, an invitation the school is expected to accept.
The conference's board of directors unanimously voted to extend the invitation to Memphis on Wednesday, the conference announced.
Outgoing Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson told ESPN.com that the official call with the Big East to accept the invitation from commissioner John Marinatto will take place at 1 p.m. ET.
A news conference will follow in Memphis.
Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky confirmed Memphis' expected departure on Wednesday in a statement. He also said that he's not expecting to lose any more schools to the Big East.
"Based upon my conversations with commissioner Marinatto, the Big East has now completed its future membership plan," Banowsky said. "If this is true, it is very helpful as we can now move forward with our plans in a more stable national environment. We hope that the other conferences appreciate the value of stability in intercollegiate athletics and higher education."
Details of any exit fee for Conference USA or entry fee will be discussed Wednesday.
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 Big East will also be adding Central Florida, Houston, SMU, Navy, San Diego State and Boise State in the coming years, and soon will lose West Virginia to the Big 12 and Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Big East's plan has been to get to 12 football teams and eventually have a conference championship game. Memphis, plus incumbent schools Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida, could get the conference to that point by 2015.
Memphis has been trying to move from Conference USA since being snubbed when the Big East expanded in 2005, losing a longtime 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' value to the Big East is in basketball, where the Tigers have made 23 NCAA tournament appearances with a record of 32-23. The Tigers played in the national title game in 1973 and 2008, when they lost to UCLA and Kansas, respectively. They also reached the Final Four in 1985 and lost in three other regional finals.
Pitino has actively lobbied the Big East and its member schools to add Memphis and Temple for basketball, regardless of whether the conference adds Central Florida, Houston or SMU.
"We have to take a page out of the ACC in what they did to us," Pitino told ESPN.com in October. "Taking Syracuse and Pittsburgh was a stroke of genius. We have to do the same thing and we have that available to us with two programs that also have football."
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."
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 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.
Information from ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad and ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz was used in this report.