The Big East has poached four current Conference USA members -- UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU -- following the defections of TCU and West Virginia to the Big 12 and Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Big East also added Mountain West members Boise State and San Diego State in football only. The six schools are slated to officially join the Big East on July 1, 2013.
Big East Commissioner John Marinatto introduced Memphis as a new member during a teleconference Wednesday, noting the Tigers' strength as a powerhouse basketball program. He said he was satisfied after extensive meetings with Memphis administrators that the school's struggling football program is heading in a positive direction.
"It became clear to me that they are truly dedicated to rebuilding Memphis football," Marinatto said.
USF President Judy Genshaft, who represented Big East presidents and chancellors on the teleconference, said she was pleased to see Memphis join the conference.
"We have every confidence in Memphis' ability to build a solid football program in the Big East Conference," Genshaft said.
Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson, who is slated to retire this summer and was criticized late in his tenure for failing to lead the Tigers to an automatic qualifying Bowl Championship Series conference, said he it was a great day for the Tigers.
"With this move, the future of Tiger athletics is brighter than ever," Johnson said.
Memphis is the latest school to defect from Conference USA.
ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported Conference USA's board of directors will meet later this week to discuss the possibility of a full-scale merger with the Mountain West Conference. Katz attributed the news to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Once UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU depart for the Big East, Conference USA's members will include East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB and UTEP.
The Mountain West Conference will add Nevada and Fresno State in all sports and Hawaii in football next year. Once it loses Boise State and San Diego State, its members will include Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming.
The two conferences signed an agreement for a football-only merger, but they have negotiating for months to completely disband both leagues and form a new conference. If they disband, the conference members could be released from their television contracts and free to negotiate new agreements in a more competitive television negotiating environment that has driven up prices paid by networks.
It also would end a difficult television agreement the Mountain West Conference signed with CBS Sports to create The Mtn. network. While the Mountain West's TV network provided extensive coverage of all of its schools in a variety of sports, limited carriage agreements with cable and satellite companies made it difficult for fans to follow their teams and a major point of contention that helped accelerate BYU's decision to leave the league and compete as an independent program.
It is unclear how quickly Conference USA and Mountain West could execute the merger and what impact the merger could have on teams slated to depart to the Big East in 2013. UCF and all other departing members are currently slated to play a typical C-USA football schedule in 2012.
The Big East is still working out the exit and entrance of its members, which has had a major impact on C-USA and the Mountain West.
Marinatto said during the teleconference the Big East had achieved its goal of reaching 12 football-playing members, but he stopped short of saying the league was done with expansion. He said he learned you can "never say never" when it comes to college conference expansion.
Louisville's status could alter the game plan. The Big 12 came close to plucking the Cardinals from the Big East when it officially added West Virginia.