University of Memphis president David Rudd. In the past 14 months, “I would argue that I don’t know that, from top to bottom, we’ve ever been in better shape,” Rudd said about the athletic program.
Brad Vest

Remember the giddiness? Remember the optimism? Remember the high hopes that the irresistible combination of Fred Smith, David Rudd and a resurgent Memphis football team would be enough to earn Memphis an invitation to join a Power 5 conference?

That all began exactly a year ago. With the stunning news that the Big 12 was going to consider expanding to 12 or 14 teams.

“It’s a statement from the board that we want to move forward,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.

It was a statement that sent 20 of America’s finest educational institutions into a humiliating sort of hysteria. They lobbied. They sent gifts. They bid against themselves, offering to take even fewer Big 12 scraps than their already prostrate competition.

Memphis groveled as vigorously as anyone, offering to make a $500 million investment in athletic and academic infrastructure, and sending out a letter from Smith saying that FedEx would be willing to sponsor a Big 12 title game if Memphis were admitted to the conference.

The groveling didn’t work. Memphis wasn’t even one of the 11 institutions invited to make a personal pitch to join the conference.


It was a slap in the face to Smith, to Rudd and to the university itself. Tulane and Rice got interviews, but Memphis didn’t?

So now the good news: There will be no such expansion hysteria this year.

And now the bad news: Memphis is stuck outside the lucrative Power 5 universe for the foreseeable and probably distant future.

The Tigers are where they are.

The money is what it is.

What choice does Memphis have other than to make the best of it?

We bring this up because both the Big 12…