Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner has made it clear — very clear, over and over — that he has no interest in playing SEC schools like Tennessee, Arkansas, Ole Miss or Mississippi State. His reason? He doesn’t want to give any of those schools a second’s access to the rich recruiting zone he enjoys in and around the Bluff City.
On Friday, Memphis will finish off its current home-and-home series with the Volunteers and Pastner has again said he doesn’t intend to kickstart it. “We will not play Tennessee anymore as long as I’m the head coach and I’m doing my scheduling,” the young coach told The Knoxville News Sentinel.
The immediate response from Tennessee will be to blackball the Tigers in football. At least that’s been the leverage used in the past to keep the hoops rivalry rolling. But perhaps there’s another way for Tennessee — and Arkansas — to get into Memphis on a regular basis.
The city of Memphis owns the FedEx Forum. Granted, mega-Tiger booster Fred Smith has his company’s name on the building, but it’s not his building. It belongs to the city. And if the city felt it could make money and bring in some tourists and get some television publicity on a yearly basis, it might be hard for Smith, Pastner and University of Memphis officials to block the city’s opportunities.
Between Wal-Mart, Pilot Travel Centers, Dish Network, and Tyson Foods, there are a lot of big boosters with big companies behind the Arkansas and Tennessee athletic programs. If the Hogs and Vols truly want to have a presence in Memphis — and tick the Hell out of Pastner in the process — the schools should try to move their annual SEC basketball contest to the city.
If Wal-Mart, Pilot, Dish or Tyson Foods would step up as the corporate sponsor of the Arkansas-Tennessee basketball game, the city of Memphis would likely have an interest in hosting a “border war” type of showdown. Get ESPN to throw it on during its “Rivalry Week” programming and it’s win-win for everyone. Everyone but Pastner and his Tigers, that is.
Memphis would get an extra night of tourists coming into its bars, restaurants and hotels. The city would also get free publicity and airtime on ESPN or one of its secondary properties. And the city would make money by hosting the game itself.
Arkansas and Tennessee would get to play in front of Memphis-area recruits on a regular basis. They would get exposure on national television for a primetime event. They might also create a better rivalry with one another.
ESPN would get the kind of made-for-TV event that it loves.
The corporate sponsors would get added exposure, too. And the owners of said properties might enjoy knowing that they’re helping their alma maters to recruit as well.
The only reason for Arkansas and Tennessee (or Ole Miss and MSU) not to move a yearly game to Memphis would be the loss of one game’s worth of home revenue every other year. Considering the recruiting positives that could be gained, that might just be a small price to pay.
Especially if any or all of those programs got to show themselves off in Pastner’s hometown.