Breaking Down the FBI Scandal

This morning I’ll be appearing on TalkBalkLive with Bob and Josh – AM 730. We’ll be discussing the scandal that rocked college hoops last week.

I went ahead and read the actual legal complaint, so now I can answer some basic questions about the situation:

Q1. People have known for years that money gets funneled from shoe companies and assistant coaches to players and their families. But what’s the actual crime?   

The actual crimes are wire fraud and money laundering. Wire fraud is where an individual cheats someone out of money or property and uses “wire connections” to do so.  Regular fraud is simply cheating someone out of something through intentional deception.

Q2. But who is the victim?

Believe it or not, according to the complaint, the victims were the universities. By bribing potential student athletes, the fired coaches “deprived the universities of their right to control the use of their assets, including the decision of how to allocate a limited amount of athletic scholarships, and which, if revealed, would have further exposed the universities to tangible economic harm, including monetary and other penalties imposed by the NCAA.

Q3. Are we supposed to feel sorry for the University of Louisville and other Universities caught up in this?

Nope. They knew what they were doing. That includes Rick Pitino.

Q4. What really happened?

A few things.

One thing that happened is that Adidas executives, desperate to boost their brand, bribed high level basketball recruits to play at Louisville and other sponsored schools.

Another thing that happened is that agents and financial advisers bribed the coaches to steer players to retain their services.

Q5. Didn’t we always know this was happening?

Yes, but the NCAA couldn’t prove it – because they don’t have subpoena power or the capacity to run surveillance.

The media could have dug up a story and potentially blown the cover off the scandal, but sports media relies on coaches for access, and is more interested in generating content and clicks than doing investigative reporting.

Remember, our local CBB expert is the guy who’s been admonishing Memphis to hire a coach who knows how to “get things done” and lamenting the hire of Tubby Smith specifically because of his recruiting.

Q6: Speaking of “getting things done” what kind of money are we talking about?

Adidas wasn’t playing around.  They paid as much as $150,000 to get star recruits to head to their sponsored schools (like Louisville). And these weren’t one time payments via check – these were elaborate operations set up to cover their tracks. Assistant coaches were involved. Adidas executives were involved.

Q7: Is Memphis in the clear?

Nobody presumes Tubby Smith would ever be involved in stuff like this. Until a few days ago, that was considered a bad thing. I suspect people are now changing their tune a little bit. That being said, I’ll resist the temptation to label some schools “bad” and others “good.” This is an industry wide problem and no school is immune.

Q8. So what’s my take-away as a Memphis fan??

Again, without being self righteous about this (we all loved Calipari, right?), there is a certain vindication for those folks who supported Tubby Smith voraciously.

I don’t support Tubby Smith because he was clean. 

I thought Tubby Smith was a good hire because Memphis basketball needed a culture change. 

Memphis basketball had tried and succeeded to recruit along side the Louisville’s and the Arizona’s of the world. Without the benefit of P5 membership, keeping up with these schools was getting more and more difficult – and now we know a little more about why that is.

While trying to “get things done” Memphis basketball destroyed its own soul from within. This was evident in the aftermath of Calipari and during the entire Pastner regime.

Hiring Tubby Smith was a bold step in a different direction.

Today that step has been justified.

 

 

 

 

Joe Jackson Arrested, David Fizdale Speaks Out, Politics & Sports

JOE JACKSON ARRESTED

The news broke Wednesday evening that former Tiger great Joe Jackson was arrested in Memphis on gun and drug charges.

Even with the presumption of innocence, it’s a depressing turn for a guy who once held the entire hopes of the Memphis Iprogram on his slight but legendarily sturdy shoulders.

Here’s hoping that Jackson, a 2014 U of M graduate, moves past this incident and onto better things.

For fans of the program, the narrative arc of Jackson’s basketball career is just more evidence that the overwhelming majority of D1 caliber Memphis High School players are better off at non-local colleges and that the U of M Basketball program is better off with a roster made up primarily of non-local prospects.

That fact has now been proven, in my estimation, beyond a reasonable doubt.

FIZDALE SPEAKS OUT

Grizzlies coach David Fizdale spoke out Wednesday on President Trump’s recent comments regarding the racial violence last weekend in Charlottesville, VA.

My first reaction after reading Fizdale’s comments was to think that the “stick to sports” takes would pile up pretty fast and ignite something of a firestorm in Memphis.

As of this evening, it appears my first reaction was wrong.

That’s a good thing for all of us.

It’s 2017.

Sports and politics are irreversibly intertwined.

People seem to be getting used to that fact.

Sports as a powerful political platform are nothing new.  Whether it’s Muhammad Ali taking a stand against the Vietnam WarBlack Power salutes in 1968 Olympics or Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem – athletes have been using their platform to draw attention to political causes for decades.

Furthermore, in the Twitter age, everyone has a platform.  Why should athletes and coaches be criticized for doing what the rest of us do all day long?

They shouldn’t.

Thankfully, it appears increasingly that they aren’t.

SPORTS DIMINISHED & DEBASED

Political viewpoints aside, one sad development to me is how much the current social media and political environment seems to have taken away from our collective enjoyment of sports.

Politics and sports overlap quite a bit. The same types of people are drawn to both and follow both.

In a normal political and social environment, the month of August (for sports fans in Memphis, anyway) would be dominated by anticipation of the upcoming football and basketball seasons. Twitter and casual conversation would be geared toward SEC football practice, the Tigers, etc…

2017 isn’t normal. 

In our current environment, politics is sucking all the oxygen out of the room.  Watching national politics in 2017 is akin to binge watching 5 seasons of a Netflix series in the course of one weekend.  It’s riveting, but the laundry and grocery shopping won’t be getting done.

Even the local sports dialogue that does break through the noise has necessarily assumed the same toxic divisive tone of our political discourse. The local media’s coverage of Memphis Tiger Basketball Head Coach Tubby Smith, for example, has been dark, cynical and I wonder if it isn’t tinged with a vague subconscious racial animus.

Would a white coach with Tubby Smith’s credentials be taking the same kind of heat?

I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question to ask isn’t it?

George Washington & Memphis’ Quest for Power

Is the dream of Memphis joining a “Power” conference still alive?

Yes, but not in the form you probably imagine.

Also, it tangentially involves Revolutionary War hero and first POTUS George Washington.

More on him in a minute.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco has been making the rounds on the radio / podcast circuit, and he’s spitting some hard truth for anyone willing to listen:

“We are not the Big 10, and we’re not the SEC and we’re not going to be – and neither are some of the other conferences that are in the so called P5.”

Shots fired, Big XII & ACC.

We have to do things differently. We can’t compete with (the SEC & Big 10) head on. We can’t try to be on Saturday every week because the networks will take their games. What we had to do was build our brand differently and be innovative. We’ve done a ton of Thursdays and Fridays. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but we get great exposure. We’re alone those nights, the college community is watching us. We had the 2 highest rated Thursday games this past year.”

The AAC has launched an aggressive campaign to achieve “Power” status, but if you depend on Memphis news sources you may have missed it.

Having worked at ESPN and at CBS Sports for 16 years, Aresco understands the financial realities facing AAC schools like Memphis:

“Even down the road we’re not going to have the resources of the Big 10 or the SEC or possibly some of the other conferences, we know that. But if we can get a lot more (money), we’ll be that much more competitive than we already are, and I think we will take our place among the P6 and find a way to officially get there.”

Aresco continues to push the narrative that the AAC belongs in the “Power 6” and he’s not backing down on this point.

For inspiration, Aresco turns to none other than the commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Washington himself.

What’s more American than that?

Aresco notes that Washington “couldn’t fight the British head on. Had he done that, the Revolution would have ended in a week or two. He had to fight on the fringes and eventually gain strength and do things differently.”

The commissioner understands the stakes:

“We have no choice. We are either going to be in that group (P5) or go backwards.”

This is undoubtedly true, and Aresco isn’t just talking about perception. He plans to eventually pursue legislation in the NCAA structure to become a member of the autonomy conferences (SEC, Big 10, ACC, Big XII, Pac 12).

To buttress his case, Aresco points to some impressive statistics. The AAC has had:

  • 32 football games with over a million viewers.
  • 19 wins against the P5 in the last 2 years.
  • More draft picks in first 5 rounds than the Big XII.

Ignored Locally

To codify and organize this “Power6” effort, the AAC released a strategic plan on May 1, 2017.

News of the plan’s release was covered by the Associated Press, Forbes, SportsBusiness Daily, and daily newspapers in other AAC Markets (Dallas, Tampa, Tulsa, etc…).

Memphis’ Commercial Appeal, on the other hand, didn’t cover the release of the strategic plan – and certainly hasn’t discussed or adopted usage of the term “Power 6.”

I reached out to someone at the Commercial Appeal to see if I had somehow missed their story on the strategic plan, and was told that they “didn’t think it was newsworthy.”

Ironically, just this week the CA ran a feature on the football program’s usage of athletic tape.

I guess newsworthiness is subjective.

Oh well, Aresco will surely soldier on….

 

 

 

 

Has Gary Parrish Been in a Coma Since 2014?

Tuesday morning, on Geoff Calkins’ radio show, Gary Parrish continued his assault on both the University of Memphis Men’s Basketball program and history itself.

To hear Parrish discuss the state of Memphis basketball, one would have to assume the man fell asleep in 2014 and woke up yesterday.

Accordingly, Someone should tell Gary Parrish that Mayweather beat Pacquiao.

Also, let him know that the Supreme Court has declared same-sex marriage legal and that Donald Trump performed surprisingly well in the GOP primaries in advance of the 2016 Presidential election.

And someone should definitely catch Parrish up on the condition of the Tiger Basketball program from 2014 to 2016.

While answering a question about the Tigers’ non-conference home schedule, Parrish initially took the opportunity to diverge into a disparaging riff on the Tigers’ roster – for those loyal listeners who missed the exact same discussion Monday afternoon.

After that, he proceeded to paint a picture of Memphis Basketball attendance that would make a revisionist historian blush:

“There are people who want to be there and feel like they should be there who have forever been there who I think are going to start to disappear simply because, what is fun about watching a bad basketball team lose over and over again?”

So, according to Parrish, there is a subsection of Memphis Tiger fans who have forever been there, but now they’re going to disappear.

In the immortal words of Clay Davis, sheeeeeeeit. 

Gary Parrish wants you to believe that declining attendance at Tiger basketball games is a new trend ushered in by Tubby Smith in the past year.

Apparently, Calkins didn’t feel like reminding Parrish about Fred Blose.

Fred Blose, for those who don’t recall, was the fan profiled in Calkins’ somewhat infamous column entitled: “What happens when Memphis Tigers fans give up?”

The column appeared in January of 2015 and chronicled the “cratering” attendance at Memphis Basketball games.

That’s right. January of 2015

More evidence that apparently Parrish wasn’t paying much attention to Tiger Basketball in 2015.

A few weeks ago it became clear he has either forgotten or never internalized that 7th place AAC finish, those 15 losses, and that rash of transfers amidst a 2-year absence from postseason.

Now Parrish seems to have forgotten about the ongoing civic obsession with declining attendance at Tiger basketball games over Josh Pastner’s final 2 seasons.

Here’s a refresher from June of 2016, courtesy of Parrish’s former employer – the Commercial Appeal:

“Memphis averaged 12,028 in announced home attendance for 2015-16, a 13.6-percent decrease from 2014-15 (when it ranked 21st nationally at 13,915) and a 25.4-percent decrease from 2013-14 (when it ranked 10th nationally at 16,121).

But those numbers don’t accurately reflect what was clearly a massive drop-off in home attendance last year during former Tigers coach Josh Pastner’s final season. Memphis needed a late-season push from fans just to keep its average turnstile count for the season above 6,000.”

So the facts are this:

  1. Tiger basketball attendance dropped precipitously over a multi-year period earlier this decade and has never recovered.
  2. Gary Parrish wants you to believe that next year’s low attendance will be the beginning of that trend.

Parrish isn’t stupid and I can’t imagine he’d be deliberately misleading, so I’ll be generous and assume his memory and judgement are momentarily clouded by animus and the need to fill air-time.

But that actually wasn’t the worst part of Parrish’s appearance on Tuesday.

The worst was this musing:

“We’ve reached a point where I don’t understand why a single person, like honestly anybody, would go to a University of Memphis basketball game over a Memphis Grizzlies basketball game.”

Tigers vs. Grizzlies. The tiredest of all tired Memphis sports topics. Also the most unnecessarily toxic.

I won’t delve too deeply into the host of possible reasons one might attend a College Basketball game, some of which Calkins immediately alluded to – being a lifelong fan of a program, being an alumnus, having an emotional connection to the program, it being a less expensive form of sports entertainment, distaste for the professional game, etc….

Instead, I’ll just openly wonder why this guy is trying to drive a wedge between the Grizzlies and the Tigers.

It’s not like we haven’t heard this bullshit before.

We certainly heard it in late 2015 – when Parrish’s buddy Josh Pastner dropped a home game to Texas-Arlington. And again later that season when the Tigers fell at home to East Carolina.

Someone should tell Parrish about those performances – he seems to have missed them entirely.

Musing: 10 Bothersome Things

Occasionally, in this space, we muse.

We have mused about Facebook, and about Girl Scout Cookies.

We once mused about Panda Express, and later about Super Bowl Parties.

Today, we muse about (absurdly) random bothersome things, some large and incredibly serious, some small and trivial.

Let the musings begin…

Proceed to the route. Sometimes when I ask the lady in my iPhone for directions to a place, she tells me to proceed to the route. Here’s the thing: if I knew where the route was, I wouldn’t be asking for help. It’s preposterous. Surely we can do better. And by “we” I mean the lady inside my iPhone.

Surely, she can do better.

Share size candy bags. Let’s be honest, nobody shares these things. I know I don’t. “Share size” candy bags are about one thing, and one thing only: gluttony. “Share size” candy means that when I’m finished, instead of wanting slightly more, I want slightly to puke. This is evil marketing.

Share size candy bags can go straight back to the fiery hell from which they came.

It’s called “share size,” but everyone knows that’s total bullshit.

The Opioid Epidemic. Shifting gears to a more serious topic, the opioid epidemic is a real bummer. Statistics reveal that 91 people die every day in the United States from opioid overdoses, but the actual number is way higher. American cities are being ravaged, and the companies that purport to be part of the solution might be part of the problem.

Congress is getting involved, which likely means nothing useful will happen.

Transitioning now to more esoteric bothersome things….

The Concept of Maintenance. I’m not good at routine maintenance. In fact, I suck at it. I don’t like brushing my dog’s teeth, keeping the lawn mower clean, meditating, or going to the Doctor. Without proper maintenance, shit breaks down. This is a problem. This isn’t exactly a contemporary musing, but rather a timeless condition that has yet to be solved. Nevertheless, it made the list.

My dog’s breath is rancid, by the way.

Moving on.

Emotions. Apparently stoicism is a thing, but I wasn’t blessed with the capacity for it. Stoicism is the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint. According to the internet, an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

I am not indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Also…

Housing Prices. For all the talk about the terrible economy, housing prices in Memphis, TN continue to soar. I always seem to (unconsciously) time the housing market poorly.

Devolution of Political Discourse. New data from Wakefield Research found that one in 10 couples, married and not, have ended their relationships in a battle over political differences. For younger millennials, it’s 22 percent. And nearly one in three Americans said that political clashes over Trump have “had a negative impact on their relationship,” said a recent report. Obviously this problem has intensified as the sources of news consumption have proliferated. Whatever the cause, it kind of sucks.

Liberals. Just kidding! Not going there.

Trendy Concept Restaurants. Earlier this week I ordered take out online from a trendy concept restaurant. Ordering and paying was extremely easy. But when I showed up 20 minutes later and told someone behind the counter that I had ordered online, he looked surprised to learn that they even had an online ordering feature. Nobody in the actual restaurant actually knew about my order.

Also, the food wasn’t good.

But the name and branding were trendy!

Negativity. Negativity is the worst, this list notwithstanding.

Perhaps soon we’ll muse about good things.

Perhaps.

 

 

 

Closing Arguments

Today I was a guest on the Geoff Calkins show and asked to defend my recent columns criticizing Calkins and his fellow radio pal, Gary Parrish for their hit pieces on the Memphis basketball program run by head coach Tubby Smith.

If you’re interested, the audio can be found here.

The conversation ended up being a friendly debate, and we were essentially arguing separate points.

We stipulated a few points as the discussion progressed:

  • The Tubby Smith experiment can still theoretically go either way, and we’re hoping it goes well.
  • To win at Memphis in the past has usually (if not always) meant operating in the gray areas in terms of recruiting, NCAA compliance, etc.
  • Josh Pastner wasn’t capable of managing the high level players he was able to recruit to Memphis.

Calkins challenged me to argue why the Tubby Smith tenure hasn’t been a disaster thus far, and I basically responded by saying it’s just too early (1 year in) and too drastic to issue that judgement.

But that wasn’t what I set out to establish.

My basic argument was that the criticism of Smith often ignores or distorts the facts and the recent history of Memphis Basketball.

The obvious evidence of this distortion, which I set forth at the outset, was Parrish’s assertion that the mess at Memphis was
“created” by Tubby Smith.

This assertion simply ignores the fact that by the time Smith got the job, Memphis Basketball was already an undisputed (expect perhaps by Parrish) mess. Calkins wasn’t interested in defending Parrish so we moved on.

I regret not asking Calkins point blank to defend or explain his previous statement that not getting into the Big XII would begin a “decline into irrelevance” for Memphis athletics. Because if Calkins stands by the “decline into irrelevance” statement, than it’s a tacit acknowledgement that Tubby Smith is fighting against forces that his critics (including Calkins himself) now seem reluctant to acknowledge.

The argument now seems to be it’s as easy as it ever was to win big at Memphis.

Indeed, the evidence just doesn’t support the seemingly ubiquitous idea that programs at Memphis’ level (AAC / MWC)  can succeed at a top 25 level simultaneously in football and basketball.

It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s just that it hasn’t been done.

Therefore it’s hard and might take a while (which is all Tubby Smith is saying).

It’s not defeatist to point that out, it’s an acknowledgement of reality.

Yet nobody with a platform wants to acknowledge that. I’ll even concede that it’s not Tubby’s place to point it out, just like I didn’t like Pastner’s winning is hard schtick.

So Calkins and I really weren’t far off.

Given that this debate took place on Calkins’ turf, and that I was a bit awestruck to just be on that platform, I probably lost some points for lack of clarity.

Nevertheless I stand by the position that the criticism of Tubby is over the top, and that when it comes from Calkins and Parrish it cements a narrative that permeates the sports culture in the entire city (and in Parrish’s case – across the college basketball landscape).

Finally, I appreciate that Calkins admitted that he’s genuinely sensitive to the suggestion that he’s too hard on Tubby. I don’t believe Calkins is “out to get” Tubby just because the media doesn’t have great access to the program, though that fact is true.

I think if Tubby wins, Calkins will write nice things and everyone will be happy.

Except maybe Gary Parrish. He’ll probably still find a way to rile up the Memphis fans in order to sell used computers and vodka.

 

 

 

Calkins Contradicts Calkins

“So if competing in the world today is different than it was for Memphis 10 years ago, it’s only because of the philosophy of the head coach.”

Geoff Calkins, 5/1/2017

Harsh words.

But what was Calkins saying about Memphis’ ability to “compete in the world” last year?

“If they are not (successful at obtaining Big 12 admission), Memphis athletics will continue on a slow slide toward irrelevance.”

Geoff Calkins, 5/3/2016

What a difference a year makes, huh?

A year ago, according to Geoff Calkins, Memphis’ place in the college basketball universe depended on things like money, resources, television contracts and conference affiliation.

Today, also according to Calkins, it’s entirely dependent on Tubby Smith’s recruiting philosophy.

Geoff Calkins is a great columnist. I enjoy his work and even own his recently published book.

So it’s with sadness that I’ve been enduring his blistering attacks on Tubby Smith.

It’s not that Tubby Smith doesn’t deserve to be questioned. Obviously, that goes with the territory at Memphis.

I just can’t figure out why Calkins (and Gary Parrish) continue to write hit pieces based on demonstrably false premisses.

Last week, Parrish falsely implied that Tubby Smith inherited a program on the rise.

Um, ok.

Now, Calkins is contradicting his own previous statements by telling us that nothing has changed at Memphis vis a vis their competitive realities.

It boggles the mind.

Again, the latest false attack, from Calkins today:

“So if competing in the world today is different than it was for Memphis 10 years ago, it’s only because of the philosophy of the head coach.”

Only?

Only?

Just so we’re clear about how wrong and unfair this is, let’s consult a dictionary.

According to the fine folks at Google, the wordOnly is an adverb that means “no one or nothing more besides; solely or exclusively. “

So Calkins is claiming that, apart from the philosophy of the head basketball coach, there have been no other impactful (to recruiting) changes at Memphis over the past 10 years?

This is so unfair and so false, it’s almost not worth taking apart.

But let’s do it anyway, with a few assists from Calkins himself.

As an outside observer, it’s clear that perhaps the biggest difference in the Memphis basketball program between 2007 to 2017 is the Athletic Director overseeing it.

Everybody knows that then Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson gave basketball coach John Calipari complete dominion and everything he wanted.

Memphis has the NCAA probation to prove it.

How do I know Calipari had unfettered control?

Because Geoff Calkins told me so.

Here’s Geoff Calkins on May 29, 2009, in the aftermath of NCAA allegations against the UofM:

“The most serious allegation is that former Memphis player Derrick Rose had someone take his SAT for him. What’s the big deal about that? R.C. Johnson had someone else run his whole athletic department.”

Boom.

But how does this differ from the kind of athletic department in which Tubby Smith operates – a department currently run by Athletic Director Tom Bowen?

Again, who better to ask than Geoff Calkins himself?

Here is Calkins’ tweet from January 3, 2013 the day after Bowen publicly contradicted then head basketball coach Josh Pastner on a minor scheduling issue:

“If I’m Josh Pastner, I try to win a tournament game, then take the best job that comes available. Totally gutted by his AD.”

So 10 years ago the Memphis basketball coach gets to run the entire athletic department, and under the current boss the basketball coach should expect to be “gutted” publicly if he has an opinion about the schedule.

Got it.

No difference.

Again, nothing is different, other than the Head Coach’s philosophy.

It’s absurd.

Not to beat a dead horse, but it also bears repeating that over the past 10 years Memphis’ primary geographic rivals (Ole Miss, UT, Arkansas, etc.) have developed an incredible resource advantage.

Surely, this effects recruiting budgets.

Over the past decade, the SEC’s television revenue distribution has gone from $10.2 million in 2007 to $40 million in 2016. Over the same time period Memphis’ television revenue went from a meager $1.1 million per year to a meager $2 million per year.

Desperate to keep up, Memphis tried, and failed, to get into the Big 12.

So what? What does not getting into the Big 12 have to do with basketball recruiting?

Good questions. For the answer let’s again turn to Geoff Calkins.

Here’s he is on May 3, 2016 describing what it would mean if Memphis failed to get into the Big 12.

“If they are not (successful at obtaining Big 12 admission), Memphis athletics will continue on a slow slide toward irrelevance.”

How can you square this May 3rd, 2016 statement with blaming Tubby Smith exclusively for the fact that Memphis’ 2017 recruiting isn’t up to snuff?

You can’t.

Again, I’m a big Calkins fan, but this is getting ridiculous.

 

Zero Sum Game

With the University of Memphis enjoying unprecedented football success in the midst of a prolonged dry spell for its traditionally strong Men’s basketball program, the question has inevitably been asked:

Is Memphis now a football school?

The typical response, of course, is to deflect the question.

The typical response is to suggest that, like Florida, Wisconsin or Louisville; Memphis will find a way to achieve and sustain success in both football and men’s basketball.

Unfortunately, the evidence strongly suggests that’s unrealistic.

First, let’s define sustained success.

Let’s stipulate that a typical Memphis fan’s expectation is that Memphis should both qualify for the NCAA tournament and participate in a Bowl game every 4 out of 5 years.

There are 41 Bowl games (82 spots) and only 128 teams, so most fans rightly realize that qualifying for a Bowl isn’t that hard.

And there are now 68 teams selected annually for the NCAA tournament. Memphis fans have always expected to at least qualify for the Big Dance.

So, again, let’s use 80% (4 out of 5 years) in each / both sport as a measuring stick.

Would it surprise you to learn that virtually no other school at Memphis’ resource level succeeds at that rate in both major sports?

Point of fact: Of the 23 schools at Memphis’ approximate revenue level, only one has qualified for the NCAA tournaments in at least 4 of the previous 5 seasons. Furthermore, that school (Cincinnati) emerged from a BCS league (BIG EAST) and thus had a built in revenue advantage.

Consider the following:

  • Memphis competes in just one of two conferences (AAC / MWC) who attempt to field both high level men’s basketball programs and football programs despite the lack of a lucrative television contract.
  • The average athletic department annual revenue in the AAC / MWC is approximately $43m. Both leagues have relativity minor TV payouts.
  • The AAC / MWC revenue figures compare favorably to true mid-major and single NCAA tournament bid conferences like the MAC ($30m), but pale in comparison to so called “power” leagues.
  • In the SEC, the average revenue per athletic department is over $100m annually.
  • Having less than half the money of its wealthy major conference peers has consequences beyond not being able to retain coaches, build new facilities, pay for chartered planes, etc.
  • It also means dedicating less resources to marketing both basketball and football. It means less resources for recruiting high school athletes for both sports. It means less resources for compliance advisers to process high school transcripts for prospects for both sports.

The list goes on.

Indeed, the evidence indicates that schools at Memphis’ level essentially have to choose between men’s basketball and football when it comes to resource allocation.

Most, for obvious reasons, choose football.

Football success, it is rightly imagined, will lead to better conference and TV / media alternatives which will then lead to higher revenue which will then be used to enhance the entire athletic department.

In the meantime, however, basketball clearly suffers.

Of the 23 schools in the AAC / MWC, a startling 14 have earned zero or one NCAA tournament bid(s) over the past 5 seasons.

Houston, USF, UCF, Tulane, East Carolina, Air Force, San Jose State, Utah State, Colorado State, Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV, Wyoming, Fresno State.

Memphis’ college basketball neighborhood is basically a wasteland of woebegone programs.

Other than Cincinnati, only one other school of the 23 has more than 2 NCAA tournament appearances over that period of time.

San Diego State.

The Aztecs have been to 3 of the past 5 NCAA tournaments and qualified for Bowl Games each of the past 5 years.

San Diego State?!?!

Memphis fans like to be mentioned alongside Tennessee, Louisville, Ole Miss and Kansas.

Not San Diego State for crying out loud.

But the evidence suggests Memphians all need to get a better grip on the current landscape.

Not a single peer (AAC / MWC) institution outside of Cincinnati has hit the aforementioned 80% (4 out of 5) success rate in both sports over the past 5 seasons.

I talked to a high level administrator in the PAC 12 who formerly worked at an AAC school. He confirmed the difficulty of trying to win in both sports outside the major conferences:

“It’s very hard. How many non Power 5’s have a top 30 men’s basketball program and football program? There’s less money in all aspects and usually a smaller donor base. Less TV money. It effects academics, athletic training, etc.”

So the bottom line is this: if you’re the kind of fan who thinks Memphis should qualify for the NCAA tournament roughly 4 out of every 5 years then you’re asking them to be better than 21 of their 22 true peers.

That’s a 95% mark.

If you want them to go to 4 bowls every 5 years, you’re asking them to be better than 15 of those same 22 true peers.

If you’re asking them to do both, there’s literally zero precedent for it.

The Immediate and Long Term Future

Memphis’ conference commissioner Mike Aresco isn’t sitting still. Recognizing that the basketball product has suffered, the AAC is trying to improve its hoops reputation in the hopes of making it easier for league schools to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Towards that end, Wichita State is joining the league for the 2017-18 season.

Soon, Aresco will go to go to work on the TV / revenue situation. As a former TV executive, there’s some indication that Aresco is positioning the AAC to be the first league to take advantage of non traditional digital platforms such as Amazon.

I’m skeptical, however, that there are windfalls to be had in the current configuration. Instead of catching up to the so called “Power” conferences, the AAC may have to struggle along and be creative until the currently wealthy schools come back to the pack.

Indeed, the latest round of lucrative TV deals for conferences like the Big XII and ACC may ultimately represent the beginning of the end of an era. If you thought the last round of conference realignment was crazy, the next decade may be even less stable.

ESPN is hemorrhaging revenue and laying off large swaths of its staff in part because millennials don’t buy cable.  How much longer will schools like Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, etc. receive the equivalent of college athletics welfare checks? I’d be shocked if the college landscape doesn’t drastically shift again within a decade.

Of course, all this may come to a head much sooner.

In the meantime, Memphis fans might want to embrace the idea of being a football school and enjoy whatever success, modest or otherwise, comes along as a result of Tubby Smith’s efforts with the men’s basketball program.