War Games

How the University of Memphis can win the college football battle.

| September 08, 2011
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I've got a check made out to the University of Memphis Foundation for $500. Not much, especially relative to the Alan Graf/Harold Byrd/Elaine Springer scale of giving, but every little bit helps, right?

So, University of Memphis: The $500 is yours.

I'll sign, date, and mail the check the day the University of Memphis moves its football program out of the top tier and into a lower subdivision.

Such a move has less to do with football than with economics, and it has nothing to do with the Tigers' rout at the hands of Mississippi State on September 1st.

The NCAA offers four tiered groupings of athletics from which schools can choose to participate. Division I breaks down into the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

The FBS is home to the powerhouse football conferences that dominate TVs across the U.S. on Saturdays in the fall — and also-rans like Memphis and the rest of Conference USA.

The FCS includes Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale. Division II has schools such as Delta State, Grand Valley State, and Texas A&M-Kingsville, etc. And Division III institutions include Rhodes, Sewanee, and Millsaps.

Right now, FBS collegiate athletics stands on the precipice of a massive upheaval. A handful of schools defected to new conferences last year, but judgment day was postponed when, rather than jump from the Big 12, Texas chose to wait and see. The cease-fire lasted until last week, when Texas A&M announced its intention to leave the Big 12 and, ostensibly, to seek admission into the SEC.

Once the dust has settled, I predict many FBS schools excluded from power conferences will make the move to the FCS. Eternal optimists say Memphis has a shot at grabbing a seat in the Big 12 or Big East, once this last grand game of musical chairs starts. But what price would victory be for Memphis to find itself ensconced in a big conference and having to contend against the superpowers? Will the U of M then enter into the arms race regionally with Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi with the thought that it could possibly win?

I propose that Memphis instead play a nice game of chess. Why throw money at a football program that can't win — and, if you haven't heard, money is good to have on hand these days — when you can put it to such good use academically?

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

College is about education. Memphis should take the millions budgeted annually for its FBS football program and divert it toward a goal of being a top research school. Memphis could be one. In the pursuit of such a goal, the school will be investing in economic development, education, and job creation for the whole community. That kind of thing pays dividends for all of us, not just the fraction of the population that actually cares about the football team.

Fear not, civic leaders. Some other cities that are not host to a university playing FBS football? New York, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Charlotte, and Indianapolis.

Fear not, either, Tiger hoops fans. The strategic move for the football team need not affect the basketball team one iota. Other colleges that choose FCS football but have great basketball teams: Butler, national runner-up the last two years, and perennial top-seeds Georgetown and Villanova. One may argue that without the football millstone around its neck, Memphis athletics could attain even bigger things than it already has.

Drop the program to FCS, and do it with a very public statement and unified front from the university. Say that Memphis believes in academics and wants to have a world-class school first — a school that can support a world-class basketball team but that doesn't waste energy on distractions like football.

Can you imagine the national headlines we would make, and for something so positive? The city that made the entrepreneurs behind FedEx, Holiday Inns, the world's first grocery store, and rock-and-roll will have started a revolution in higher education's relationship with athletics.

An NCAA ad says that most of its thousands of student athletes are "going pro in something other than sports."

It's time for the University of Memphis to do the same.

Greg Akers, a football fan, is editor of MBQ: Inside Memphis Business, a sister publication to the Flyer, and is a frequent student at the University of Memphis.

Comments (8)

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this is definitely the correct course for the UofM. and I think this decision will be made for them in the near term as the superconference idea happens and breaks off to form its own classification (either within or outside of current NCAA structure). then the FCS group will be clearly defined and have a path to follow (this lingering on the outside of the BCS leagues is good for no one).

Of course, the battle ground will be from the schools that are either close (Boise State, TCU, BYU, etc) or historically included (Vandy, Northwestern, Iowa State, etc)

UofM leadership... be bold and put this into motion.

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Posted by unblinkingeye on 09/08/2011 at 9:53 AM

As much as I hate to say it, I think Greg is correct. With the beginning of the Super Conference era upon us, it only seems logical to make the move to FCS.

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Posted by mad_merc on 09/08/2011 at 10:23 AM

Why drop a program to a lower division that could average 40k a game if it actually won and averages 20k when it sucks? How about hiring a better AD and potential a new coach?

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Posted by Latilleon on 09/08/2011 at 4:56 PM

dont be foolish, after Arkansas State pounds Memphis this weekend. The talk wont be about moving down a division. It will be about folding the tent. The new theme will be Just Quit Baby!

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Posted by rob19 on 09/08/2011 at 8:43 PM

Wasn't a misguided sports program the death knell for Lambuth University? College sports generally benefit the fans and the players, not the students. It would be great for the general student body to get the same fanatical support from boosters and fans as the student-athletes. That fans clamor for a new stadium while the University Center was demolished and replaced with a smaller building that took four years to demolish and rebuild is sad.

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Posted by Andrew Bishop on 09/08/2011 at 11:40 PM

A college without a football program is like John Boehner without the orange complexion.

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Posted by Phlo on 09/09/2011 at 6:00 AM

There isn't much financial benefit from dropping down to a lower division; the real financial windfall woudl come from dropping football altogether. UM missed the boat, they should have been spending money, building an on campus stadium, etc., to upgrade football about 15-20 years ago. They sat on their asses and now Arkansas St, a program that UM would in the past only play in Memphis, has now passed them by.
I say give this coach 2-3 more years to achieve success and if he fails (which he probably will), shut football down. Then the athletic program can run in the black.

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Posted by Packrat on 09/09/2011 at 8:46 AM

Coach Billy “Spook” Murphy, whose tough resolve elevated Memphis State from “small college” to “major college” football status once bluntly stated that there are many in this town who do not want Tiger football to succeed - that is, unfortunately, no less true today. Being aware of that and the deep-seated inferiority complex which is common to natives of our community, I fully expected the air of negativity and defeatism, exemplified by Greg Akers’ article (“War Games”) during the present period of football difficulties.



I certainly agree with Mr. Akers’ position that academics must come first, but dropping or downgrading football would accomplish nothing more than limiting the university’s potential. Most of all, I strongly disagree with the assertion that UofM cannot succeed in football. History shows that despite always having one arm tied behind the back, Tiger football already has shown great potential. The Tigers finished ranked 14th in the nation in the 60’s, lead in the all-time series with Arkansas, Auburn, Cincinatti, SMU, Tulane and USC, own victories over the likes of such powers as Alabama, Florida, FSU, Georgia Tech, Miami, South Carolina and Virginia Tech and played in 5 bowl games during the last 8 years. Peyton and Eli Manning both lost to Memphis during their college careers. Certainly, there have been setbacks and disappointments, but there has also been hope, and that is what life is about.



Every program has ups and downs, even the Michigans , Notre Dames and Alabamas and rebuilding is often difficult. Rex Dockery won two games during his first two seasons but in the third year defeated 3 SEC schools and finished with a winning record before the fatal plane crash. UofM can and will rebuild again. The mistake of emphasizing basketball at the expense of football has been learned and there is a new commitment seen in millions of dollars worth of facility improvements. Most important, the chances of joining either the Big 12 or Big East during the upcoming round of conference realignment are good and the immediate advantages of BCS cash and improved perceptions will drastically level the playing field and provide the opportunity for greatness. Even without BCS membership, schools such as TCU have shown that Top 10 football rankings are possible.



Mr. Akers’ says he has $500 to send to UofM if football is downgraded. I have been happily sending more than that for decades, but if the commitment to big-time football is ever dropped, I will never again give anything to the university or a community which lacks the vision to support it. Don’t take hope away - quitting in the face of adversity is not the answer.




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Posted by The Gray Avenger on 09/19/2011 at 12:37 PM
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