Big East Conference Commissioner John Marinatto told reporters in a teleconference Wednesday that Memphis is "very well positioned for success" in football, which is the driving force in television contracts. Marinatto secretly visited the campus and Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium last week to eyeball them before sealing the deal. Memphis Athletic Director R. C. Johnson said the visit was code named "Elvis."
Marinatto touted the strong record of the Memphis men's basketball team as an important factor in the invitation to join what he called the best men's and women's basketball conference in the country. Other factors he listed were location, facilities, location, personnel, and location. The conference wanted a school in the Central Time Zone to complement its East Coast and West Coast members.
He said lobbying on behalf of Memphis by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino "wasn't the driving force." Just to make sure, he said it again a few minutes later.
Marinatto did not say whether the pending departure of Memphis Athletic Director R. C. Johnson was a factor one way or the other, leaving fans a juicy topic for ongoing discussion.
Johnson and University of Memphis President Shirley Raines held a press conference at noon Wednesday. Johnson, much criticized for everything from his hair to the Derrick Rose sanctions to the failure to get into a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) conference before this, stole the show with humor and emotion. His last day is June 29th.
"What criticism? Me?" he said in response to a question.
"By golly we did it," he said, pounding the podium in joy to a standing ovation. He gave special thanks to FedEx CEO Fred Smith, booster Mike Rose, and FedEx CFO Alan Graf who were in on the secret talks for their help.
Johnson said Big East all-sports schools got $8.6 million apiece in shared revenue compared to $2 million apiece for Conference USA schools. Memphis must pay an exit fee of $500,000 and $2.5 million to join the Big East, which Johnson said will come out of television revenue.
Johnson got another big round of applause when he said the new football coaching staff will get a recruiting boost. "They (rival coaches) can no longer say you're not in a BCS conference."
Within three years the Big East plans to have 12 football schools and 17 basketball schools, with a league championship game in each sport. Marinatto said "it is just a question of execution."
And one more thing. Arkansas State, minus head coach Hugh Freeze, is back on the Tigers 2012 schedule.