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Memphis left out of Big 12 expansion despite years of campaigning

Memphis Tigers football returns with safety changes
Memphis Tigers football returns with safety changes(source: WMC Action News 5)
Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 11:38 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WLBT) - The Big 12 is expanding...but Memphis is staying put.

Friday, it was announced that the Big 12 Conference invited UCF, BYU, Cincinnati and Houston, days after those schools submitted requests to join.

The conference expansion comes weeks after the news that Oklahoma and Texas, the conference’s two biggest schools, are leaving for the SEC.

The Big 12 has put off expansion for years despite only having 10 schools--a shell the University of Memphis has been trying to crack.

To make matters sting worse, three of the future Big 12 members come from Memphis’ own conference. The AAC will now be without three of its marquee teams in Cincy, Houston and UCF.

“Today’s news confirms what we have said all along regarding our status as a power conference. The irony that three of our schools are being asked to take the place of the two marquee schools which are leaving the Big 12 is not lost on us. Our conference was targeted for exceeding expectations in a system that wasn’t designed to accommodate our success,” American Athletic Conference leaders said in a statement following the news.

This could mean the AAC will look to add schools while Memphis jumps to the front of the line for future expansion.

As far back as 2016, Memphis made their intentions clear: they wanted to join a Power 5 conference, and the Big 12 was the easiest in-road to do so. The school even had the financial support of FedEx, which committed to investing $500 million in academic and athletic infrastructure within five years.

That expansion never came, but the impending exits of Texas and Oklahoma have changed the minds of Big 12 brass on expansion.

With that in mind, Memphis was on top of most people’s minds for expansion, but have been left in the cold yet again.

University President David Rudd says he’s disappointed.

“Our understanding is that this latest round of expansion for the Big 12 essentially came down to the size of the institutions and the markets in which they reside,” Rudd said in a statement signed by both he and Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Laird Veatch.

But, as their statement pointed out, conference realignment is in constant flux.

While there appears to be no path to a Power 5 Conference for Memphis currently, things could open up. The SEC, with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, will house a whopping 16 schools, something that could lead other conferences to build upon. The Pac-12 currently has 12 teams, while the Big 10 and ACC both hold 14.

While the Big 12 openings appear to be filled, another could open just as quickly as this one did.

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