Sources: Memphis out as potential Big 12 expansion candidate

Memphis, once considered a viable Big 12 expansion candidate in part because of its backing by FedEx, is not among the schools being considered by the conference, sources told ESPN.

Memphis was among several schools that expressed interest in joining the league and had conducted a video conference with Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby in the past two weeks, sources said.

However, the Tigers did not make the latest cut when the league trimmed its group of potential candidates by one-third, leaving 11 schools still alive in the Big 12's expansion sweepstakes.

Those 11 schools are Air Force, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, UConn, Colorado State, Houston, Rice, South Florida, SMU and Tulane. The list does not include Temple, which had been previously reported by ESPN as still being in the mix.

Next week in Dallas, representatives from each of those 11 schools will make in-person presentations to Big 12 officials, sources said. The league has said it hopes to make a decision on expansion by the Big 12's regularly scheduled board of directors meeting on Oct. 17.

ESPN's initial report indicated it could not confirm whether Memphis had made the cut. Multiple sources in the past two days verified that the Big 12's expansion candidates had been reduced to 11 schools -- and Memphis was not among them.

ESPN contacted Memphis officials on Friday to verify the school was no longer in the running. However, Memphis athletic officials referred all questions about the Big 12 to the university's marketing and communications office. That department, curiously, referred all questions back to the athletic department.

Later Friday, Memphis president David Rudd issued a statement but would neither confirm or deny ESPN's report.

"I have not and will not respond to questions about BigXII expansion," Rudd said.

FedEx chairman Fred Smith, who was a huge proponent of the Tigers' bid, declined to comment on Memphis being out of the running.

"All matters concerning the Big 12 are handled by the University of Memphis, so you should contact them directly," Smith responded in an email to ESPN on Friday.

Back in February, Rudd wrote a letter to West Virginia president Gordon Gee and copied Oklahoma president David Boren and then-Baylor president Ken Starr, the other two members of the composition committee, as well as former Big 12 board chairman and Kansas State president Kirk Schulz.

In the letter, Rudd pledged Memphis would make a $500 million investment in academic and athletic infrastructure over the next five years. Rudd also enclosed a letter from Smith, who indicated the delivery services giant headquartered in Memphis would be behind the school's Big 12 campaign.

"We strongly support the university's efforts to become a member of an expanded Big 12 athletic conference," Smith wrote to Rudd in a letter dated Feb. 23. "In support of [Memphis'] Big 12 aspirations, we have researched college conference sponsorships and are prepared to become a major Big 12 sponsor of football and basketball."

Smith also wrote that FedEx would be prepared to sponsor a Big 12 championship game.

In Rudd's letter, he reiterated that FedEx would be willing to sponsor a Big 12 championship game but that FedEx also "would uniquely position the University of Memphis to request only a portion of new revenue for several years until renegotiation of the conference media right agreement occurs."

Sources told ESPN that offering to accept less revenue might have actually hurt Memphis' chances. The league, sources said, is more interested in teams that can strengthen and add value to the league as opposed to schools that need to be "propped up" by the league.

The Big 12 still must decide whether to expand its 10-team league to 12 or 14 schools or to remain at 10. Sources said that while 14 schools is the "least likely" option, all scenarios are still "in play."

ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg contributed to this report.