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Opinion: No, Memphis should not just focus on basketball over football

Big 12 snub should not make the Tigers shy away from football, despite suggestions to the contrary

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida and BYU have officially been invited to the Big 12. The expectation is that all four universities will begin Big 12 competition in 2023-24.

The news is a massive disappointment for the University of Memphis. Three of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference are departing for greener pastures, leaving the U of M with what remains. 

It is possible that the Tigers will be invited down the road. University president David Rudd and athletic director Laird Veatch offered hope for a brighter future in a joint letter released Friday morning.

"The final whistle hasn't blown, and it's far from over," the letter read in part.

Where does Memphis go from here? There are few answers and many opinions. One in particular misses the mark. 

Matt Norlander of CBS Sports suggests that the Tigers need to go "all-in on becoming a basketball power," by using examples of Gonzaga and UConn.

"Memphis, most obviously, was passed over because it is historically a bad football school," Norlander writes. "There have been recent pockets of football success, but that university is a basketball place through and through. And if it wants to maintain its relevance going forward -- regardless of its conference affiliation -- it needs to lean into its basketball infatuation and never look back."

To which I would respond, has Memphis not already gone all-in on basketball? 

Is this not the same university that, after seeing a drop in attendance under Tubby Smith, ate the majority of his five-year, $15 million contract in order to hire Penny Hardaway?

Did they not just assemble the most eye-popping coaching staff in college basketball, and convince two five-star prospects to turn down six-to-seven-figure professional contracts to come to Memphis?

While the football program has had its ups and downs over the years, "recent pockets of football success" undersells what the Tigers have built. 

Seven straight bowl appearances, including the Cotton Bowl in 2019, is more than a pocket. College Gameday has never been to UConn -- not for football, at least. The freshman class is the highest-rated in program history. And in eight days, Memphis will host Mississippi State, where they will honor NFL hall of famer Isaac Bruce, who played for the Tigers from 1992-93.

Is Memphis a basketball-first city? Forever and always. But the U of M is more than just a basketball school. 

You can put an effort in to both; and they have. Despite the Big 12 snub, there is no need to change that now.

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