Rumors that had been swirling the past few weeks became official over the weekend when the Big 12 officially announced that it would be adding BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston. While the exact timeline of their addition to the league remains fluid, the one certain here is that the biggest loser from this realignment news is Memphis.
The departure of three of the American Athletic Conference’s top teams is not necessarily a death knell for the Tigers. But it surely cannot feel good, either. Over the last five seasons, Tiger football has posted the second best winning percentage among teams in the league behind only UCF. Men’s basketball head coach Penny Hardaway just reeled in his second number one overall ranked recruiting class in the last three years. Women’s soccer is ranked 15th in the country and is rolling after recent victories over power-five opponents Alabama, Kansas and Iowa State. (Two Big 12 schools, by the way) Simply put, Memphis athletics are rolling. At least for now, however, they have been left out.
Based on the AAC’s 2019 home attendance numbers, Memphis finished in second behind only East Carolina. UCF was third, Houston was fifth and Cincinnati was seventh. Memphis also currently boasts the nation’s fourth-longest home win streak (17 games) behind only Clemson, Notre Dame and Cincinnati. Not bad company there.
With Oklahoma and Texas set to join the SEC sometime in the next few years, it was obvious the Big 12 had to make a move. Once those two are officially gone, they may even look to expand again. It is rumored that Memphis and Boise State would be at the top of their list if they decided to add more, but that will remain to be seen. Even if they end up being added later on down the line, it still hurts to be left out initially.
This is not meant as a knock on the rest of the AAC. Competition across the league remains solid and teams like Tulane and SMU always give Memphis trouble when they meet. Still, it is undeniable the impact that losing those three will have. For reference, each school in the league received roughly $363,000 last year for Cincinnati’s appearance in the Peach Bowl. While that number may seem inconsequential in a bigger conference like the SEC or Big 12, that money makes a difference for schools operating with a smaller athletics budget. It obviously is not impossible for some of the other schools to potentially qualify for one of these bowls, but losing three of the four who consistently have challenged for those spots the last few seasons is a major blow.
So what does this mean for Memphis if they do end up getting left behind in the AAC? The league certainly would look to expand, but the options are not exactly mouth-watering. UAB, Boise State, Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State are among potential invites, but do those schools really move the needle? Maybe. Maybe not.
As tough as it may be to swallow right now, the Big 12’s decision should not impact Memphis’ outlook for the future. They are still in a good spot and are off to another strong start to their season this year. For now, all they can do is work to keep the momentum going. Hopefully, the Big 12 takes notice.
Mike Norvell holding the AAC Football Championship Trophy. The conference will lose three members, leaving Memphis behind in the American Athletic Conference.