Rick Pitino presses for Memphis, Temple
Louisville coach Rick Pitino is actively lobbying the Big East Conference and its member schools to add Memphis and Temple for basketball, regardless of whether the Big East adds Central Florida, Houston or SMU.
Pitino said Wednesday that he has expressed his opinion to Big East commissioner John Marinatto and wants the league to seriously consider raising the basketball profile of the conference during the turbulent period of realignment.
We have to take a page out of the ACC in what they did to us. 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.” -- Rick Pitino
Pitino said the Big East has to combat the ACC's move of taking away two of the league's best basketball programs in Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and then possibly the Big 12's desire to take West Virginia, if the Mountaineers end up replacing Missouri -- a potential SEC member -- in the Big 12 Conference.
But West Virginia has been notified by the Big 12 that its expansion process is on hold, a school source told ESPN's Joe Schad on Wednesday.
The Big 12 is waiting on Missouri formally to withdraw from the conference and that there has been some late "hard lobbying" by Louisville for Big 12 inclusion, the source told Schad.
West Virginia had been told that the Big 12 was willing to announce it would be adding the Mountaineers regardless of the timing of the departure announcement of Missouri, but at least for now, that has changed, the source told Schad.
Multiple sources told ESPN.com that Louisville also is actively pursuing Big 12 membership -- not at the expense of West Virginia, but in addition to the Mountaineers, or ahead of West Virginia if the Mountaineers' move doesn't happen.
For the time being, though, Pitino continues to push for Memphis, of Conference USA, and Temple, which plays in the Mid-American Conference for football and the Atlantic 10 for all other sports.
"We have to take a page out of the ACC in what they did to us," Pitino said. "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, who understands the moves are being driven by football, said he has been talking to Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner to see what kind of commitment the Tigers are willing to make to upgrade the football program. He said Temple's football program already is on an upward trajectory.
But it's the basketball programs that Pitino said have to be involved in any discussion.
"I understand what we're doing for football, but the Big East core is inner-city basketball, and Memphis and Temple fit that core," Pitino said. "They are everything we need. We have to get back to our core.
"Memphis has 18,000 season tickets in basketball and a gigantic following. It's a major city. Temple is in a major city (Philadelphia) and is a top 30 program with Fran Dunphy. We need them. Having Temple in the Big East would be great for all the other sports. And here Memphis is a great rival for us. Our fans would be excited to play Memphis."
Pitino said he has spoken to Villanova coach Jay Wright as well, to gauge if the Wildcats are attempting to block Temple, their Philadelphia Big 5 rival. Pitino is trying to work various sources to convince the Big East to consider Memphis and Temple.
"Everybody thinks SMU can be back in football and Houston is fashionable now," Pitino said, "but we can take them and Memphis and Temple. We have to get to 18 teams and get Boise State and Navy and Air Force in football if they want to commit.
"I'm giving my opinion and the Big East has told me that all my points are valid. We just lost two really important basketball programs in Syracuse and Pitt and maybe a third in West Virginia. We have to make the Big East strong again. Memphis and Temple is what we need right now."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com. ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad contributed to this report.
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