Saturday night, I was fixing dinner for a couple of friends. The University of Memphis was playing a game in Jonesboro against Arkansas State. There was a time when I would have had the radio on, listening to the game. Lately, that has not been the case. My friends and I talked about many things, but Tiger football wasn't among them. Around 8:30 p.m., someone said, "I wonder how Memphis is doing." I checked the score on my phone. "It's 44 to 3, Arkansas State, middle of the third quarter," I said. Loud groaning, laughter, and rueful headshakes ensued.
There's an accepted bit of wisdom for those with addiction issues: Before they can be helped, they have to hit bottom. They have to be so depressed, so worn out from their destructive actions, that they can see only one way out — a total change in behavior. The University of Memphis football team has hit bottom. It has become a pathetic, embarrassing excuse for a Division I football program. An intervention is needed.
Greg Akers wrote in the Flyer last week that the U of M ought to downsize its football program and focus on basketball and other sports, à la Butler, Georgetown, and Gonzaga. That plan makes all the sense in the world.
The only other option is to go big, to get booster commitments to go all-in: world-class facilities and the hiring of a big-name transformative coach. But why? The football program lost $2 million last year. Why not accept that we can be a good, even great urban university without trying to compete with BCS schools in football?
No one thinks less of NYU because it doesn't have a D-I football team. What's a better image for the city? A respected academic institution along the lines of Washington University of St. Louis or the University of Chicago, or a middling football school like, say, Rutgers or Clemson or Ole Miss? Mediocre football is not much better than bad football. And that's the best Memphis football has ever been — mediocre. In basketball, on the other hand, Memphis can compete with anyone. Dream about it, President Raines. Think about it. Do it. Stop blowing energy, money, and prestige in a futile chase for pigskin glory against schools where football is king. It ain't gonna happen. Ever. It's a distraction, and an expensive one at that. Refocus. Change your behavior. Consider this an intervention. You can thank me later.