On Wednesday, Conference USA made a -- oh, how to put this politely -- quirky decision. The C-USA decided to place its 2011 conference tournament in El Paso, Texas.
There are a few issues with this. One is that a conference tournament in El Paso has to take place in UTEP's arena, which, while sufficient for college home games, is probably not a destination arena with the sort of NBA-level amenities you would expect of a conference tournament venue (apparently there's not even an overhead scoreboard). Another is that even by the spread-out standards of the southwest, El Paso is out there, and C-USA has plenty of teams for which the trek to the Mexican border will be more than a little arduous -- it's even 750 miles from in-state schools like Houston and Rice! So it's essentially a plane ride for just about every fan base.
One such fan base is Memphis, which is located more than 1,000 miles away from the new conference tourney destination. And Memphis athletic R.C. Johnson doesn't seem the least bit pleased about it:
"The league has spoken," Johnson said. "I have nothing to add. We have to regroup and look toward the future, I guess."
The source of that quote is a column my Memphis Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins, who played around with Google Maps and came to the conclusion that Memphis needs to get out of Conference USA toot suite:
So I'm not going to pile on El Paso in this column. It probably has its charms. That's more than I can say for the miserable conference that Memphis finds itself in. What self-respecting conference puts its tournament in the middle of nowhere? What conference commissioner allows its championship game to tip off at 9:30 in the morning local time?
[...] Some of us tried to say that years ago, back when they actually held conference tournaments in Memphis. Johnson said that kind of talk was impolite. But what is true now was also true then: This conference is not the Memphis Tigers' friend. The basketball is awful. For years, we've heard about how it's going to get better. But Memphis remains the only team that's worth a spit. Instead of celebrating that, instead of leveraging it, the conference now makes it as hard as it can for Memphis to succeed.
To be fair, Conference USA was slightly better at hoops last season -- UTEP, not Memphis, won the regular season title, the league sent two teams to the NCAA tournament thanks to Houston's upset in the C-USA final, and Memphis and UAB were both bubble teams. But the point stands: Most of the schools in Conference USA simply can't compete with Memphis on the basketball court. If the Big Ten snatches up a handful of teams in its ongoing expansion effort, and Memphis has a chance to ride the conference realignment wave to a spot in a power-six conference -- the Big East? the ACC? -- you can bet the Tigers will take that chance.
The folks in Memphis seem to need a change of scenery. Just not, apparently, in west Texas.