By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
Memphis is the latest school to sign up for a spot in the new Big East.
A person familiar with the decision says Memphis is joining the Big East. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because an official announcement was pending.
Memphis Athletic director R.C. Johnson said the school is holding a conference call followed by a news conference Wednesday to discuss the university’s athletic affiliation.
The Tigers will join the league for the 2013-14 season and compete in all sports, becoming the fourth Conference USA team to move to the Big East in the last two months, along with Houston, Central Florida and SMU.
CBSSports.com first reported Memphis was on the verge of joining the Big East.
The Big East is trying to replace basketball powers Syracuse and Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and create a football league with at least 12 teams.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference and West Virginia is headed to the Big 12.
Along with previously adding in December three CUSA schools, Boise State and San Diego State agreed to join the Big East in football only in 2013.
Last month, the Big East announced Navy will become a football-only member in 2015.
When West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt are leaving is still up in the air. West Virginia has sued the Big East in an effort to join the Big 12 in 2012. The Big East filed a countersuit trying to force WVU to abide by the conference’s bylaws, which require a 27-month notification period for schools to depart.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has said the league intends to hold West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse until the summer of 2014.
Memphis has been trying to move from Conference USA since being snubbed when the Big East expanded in 2005, losing a long-time rivalry with Louisville. A departure now would be pricey for the Tigers. The exit fee from Conference USA for 2013-14 is $500,000 plus Memphis’ share of television rights revenue, which is approximately $6.13 million, according to a league spokeswoman.
The Tigers’ value to the Big East is in basketball, where the Tigers have made 23 NCAA tournament appearances with a record of 32-23. The Tigers played in the national title game in 1973 and 2008, when they lost to UCLA and Kansas respectively. They also reached the Final Four in 1985 and lost in three other regional finals.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been lobbying the Big East to add Memphis to help strengthen the league in basketball. Louisville and Memphis have spent years together first in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Metro Conference and Conference USA. Pitino again called out for league officials to consider Memphis after Louisville beat Memphis on Dec. 17.
“I’m just hoping the Big East gets smart and does something about that and allows them to come into the league,” Pitino said. “I keep getting on the pulpit and saying this: We got hurt big time and we need Memphis. Memphis doesn’t need us, we need Memphis. We need Temple. We need to build up basketball again.”
With John Calipari as coach, Memphis made four straight NCAA tournament appearances between 2006 and 2009. Josh Pastner, who took over when Calipari left for Kentucky in 2009, took Memphis to the NCAA tournament last season after winning the Conference USA tournament. Memphis will be hosting Conference USA’s men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in March.
Memphis football has played in five bowls since 2003, but all have been lower-tier games. Lately, the program has hit the skids. The Tigers haven’t had a winning record since 2007.
Memphis just hired Justin Fuente as its new football coach, replacing Larry Porter who was fired after going 3-21 in two seasons. The Tigers play football at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
AP College Football Writer Ralph Russo in New York contributed to this report.