On Tuesday, June 11, the newly formed AAC announced that the inaugural men’s basketball tournament would be held at FedExForum, where the Memphis Tigers have called home since the 2004 season. It was a surprising sequence of events, as many thought the tournament would stay in Madison Square Garden or at least stay closer to the northern region.
That was not the case though last month, as Memphis head coach Josh Pastner and the other nine league coaches unanimously agreed that the best place to hold the conference’s first tournament would be at FedExForum in the Bluff City. The decision speaks to just how well respected the Tigers’ program is and Memphis’ unofficial nickname of “Hoop City.”
The FedExForum has a history of hosting such events, as it hosted the C-USA Tournament five years in a row from 2005-2009 and then again in 2012. During those tournaments, you could almost hear a pen drop for many of the games, but when the Tigers played, it was a struggle to even find a seat. With smaller programs that do not have a large fan base, low attendance is expected for games, but the Tigers and their fans always came out in huge numbers, which is also expected for a team that is hosting a tournament. However, the Bluff City puts on tournaments for an average league and made them more exciting than it had ever been.
It was not only the excitement that FedExForum generated that lead to the Tigers hosting it six times, but also the environment, culture and passion of the game displayed by residents of “Hoop City.” The pure passion fans in Memphis have for basketball is also a big reason why the city was chosen to host the AAC’s first basketball tournament. It says a lot when Rick Pitino, who just coached longtime rival Louisville Cardinals to a national championship, calls in to the meeting to endorse Memphis as the host site.
Hosting six C-USA Tournaments at FedExForum was big for the city, and hosting the first AAC Tournament will be even bigger. The fact that Memphis was chosen as the host site over Madison Square Garden and other powerhouse programs’ venues that have been in the league much longer, such as the Cincinnati Bearcats, Connecticut Huskies and Louisville, tells how nationally respected the Tigers and the city are. That the city also hosts the Liberty Bowl every year was also a big factor, as several of the current AAC football programs have made the trip to play in the bowl game and were very impressed with everything they saw, including Cincinnati Athletic Director Whit Babcock, whose Bearcats played in their bowl game in Memphis last season and said it was a great experience for the program and fans.
But, when it comes to choosing a host site for a tournament like this, the culture and history are also a big factor. Memphis is a place with no shortage of culture and history, taking claim as the birthplace of Rock-and-Roll and the capitol of the world for barbecue. Leagues look for these things because fans are not just making the trip to watch their teams play, but to also have a great time and experience while they are there. It’s good to think of these trips for fans as vacations, and who wants to take a vacation to a place that has nothing to see, do or, in Memphis’ case, taste? Memphis has endless places to satisfy your tastes buds and, not to mention, tons of history to indulge in, such as Elvis’ Graceland and the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took his last breathes at the Civil Rights Museum.
Memphis being named the host of the 2014 AAC Tournament was a huge vote of confidence and respect for what has become one of the elite NCAA basketball programs again over the past decade. As Pastner said, much of the credit goes to the fans of the city, who year in and year out have filled the seats of FedExForum and run on a 24/7, 365-day-a-year clock revolving around the Tigers’ basketball program. Of course, the money that will be generated by the city for hosting the tournament will be a huge plus, but the feeling given to the city will be even greater. Basketball is larger than life in Memphis, and it’s nice for the fans to be rewarded for their commitment.