I do believe Memphis in general and the Tigers in particular have a superiority complex. You’ll see it Saturday at Thompson-Boling. They’ve been conditioned to believe their coach is better than our coach.
The Tigers do have a very good basketball team, young but potentially powerful. They have a cocky, passionate, homegrown coach who is an outstanding recruiter. Penny Hardaway is a little light on NCAA rules but that won’t matter unless he strays too far afar.
The Tigers also have the best football record in the state, 12-1. That team won the championship of the American Athletic Conference. It is going to the Cotton Bowl to play Penn State in the biggest game in school history.
Oops, the coach isn’t going. Mike Norvell has gone to Florida State.
Here you get another hint of the “superiority” mentality. Faithful fans (not all that many) wonder why Norvell would leave a budding powerhouse to take on the problems in Tallahassee.
The locals don’t realize Memphis football is not a budding powerhouse, never has been and may never be unless the school can move up to a better level of competition. Those puzzled by the coaching move may not have powered up their calculators and analyzed the difference in pay. Memphis is a stepping stone.
Through the years, my four Memphis friends have provided mixed reviews. All agree some segments of the city are absolutely beautiful. Memories of Elvis live on. The city hosts the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
As for sports followers, three say Memphis is not really Memphis. It is a conglomeration of Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas fans plus several from Alabama and five from Vanderbilt.
The city has long been ambitious. It wishes it was Nashville. It is envious of Knoxville. We have the university. We are blessed.
The Memphis school is pressing forward but it is squeezed. Long ago it shed the word “State” but it remains limited in image and fact. There is no campus arena for football. Home games happen at Liberty Bowl Stadium, city property. The Tigers pay rent.
There is no campus facility for baskets. The Tigers play in the NBA house, FedEx Forum. The Grizzlies get parking and concession revenue. The Tigers do have their very own locker room and lounge.
Memphis basketball has a history of arm-wrestling with the NCAA. It loses each match.
There was a knockout after the 1985 campaign. Dana Kirk was fired for recruiting violations, the Final Four appearance was erased and the Tigers had to refund significant earnings. After that, worse things happened to the coach.
The 2007-08 Memphis season did not officially happen. The school was forced to vacate a record 38 victories. The NCAA found an assortment of transgressions. A supposedly fraudulent SAT score for star Derrick Rose was headline material. Fortunately for coach John Calipari, he didn’t know a thing about it.
Let us hope the current conflict between Memphis and the NCAA is minor in comparison. The best freshman, 7-1 James Wiseman, No. 1 prep prize in the country, will miss the spotlight opportunity against the Volunteers. He is serving a 12-game suspension because others sinned.
Hardaway was involved.
Wiseman moved from the prestigious Ensworth School in Nashville to East High in Memphis to finish his prep career. The NCAA says Hardaway, then the coach at East, paid $11,500 to assist the family relocation. I had no idea a moving van cost that much.
It took a while but the TSSAA eventually ruled Wiseman ineligible. No problem. Calipari was recruiting him for Kentucky.
Things changed. Hardaway became the Memphis coach. Soon thereafter, Wiseman lost interest in Kentucky and signed with Memphis.
The NCAA smelled a mouse but decided Wiseman had done no wrong. He didn’t know Hardaway had funded the move to Memphis. James was declared eligible to be a Tiger.
And then he wasn’t. The NCAA mysteriously acquired new information. Just as this season was about to launch, the national governing body announced Wiseman might not be eligible. The choice of words was so designed because it was Memphis’ responsibility to make the actual decision.
Wiseman, blessed with a very valuable future, has professional advisors, guides and counselors. A lawsuit was filed. A judge immediately ruled that the young man could play. He played and to hell with the NCAA.
After three games, the lawsuit was withdrawn. He stopped playing. The NCAA imposed a basic nine-game penalty for extra benefits and added three games to offset the three he played. All that moving money must be paid to somebody.
Memphis fans, who already hated the NCAA, now like it even less.
Against this backdrop and amid recollections of last year’s postgame fireworks, Memphis wants to schedule more games against Tennessee. How about that, Rick Barnes?
The nice-guy coach of the Volunteers has talked all around that question without approaching an answer. I can help: No way, Jose.
Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org