FedEx CEO Fred Smith has spoken to various conference officials and made it known that his Memphis-based company could provide millions of dollars -- perhaps as much as $10 million annually -- to a BCS-affiliated league willing to offer an invitation to the University of Memphis, multiple sources close to the Memphis program have told CBSSports.com.
"It could be $10 million every year for a conference to use however it sees fit," said one of the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "When you think of the big picture, it could be the equivalent of a five-year, $50 million contract or a 10-year, $100-million contract. Fred is talking about a massive amount of money."
CBSSports.com could not reach Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson for comment Saturday. However, Johnson joked earlier in the week with reporters that he had "two of the highest paid assistant ADs in the history of mankind" working for him. That comment was in reference to Smith and FedEx chief financial officer Alan Graf, the latter of whom played a major role in the school's search last year to replace John Calipari as its basketball coach.
A FedEx official declined comment to CBSSports.com on Saturday, but the company released a statement through spokesperson Carla Boyd on Sunday that refuted CBSSports.com's report. "While FedEx is supportive of the University of Memphis’ efforts to join a BCS conference, recent reports that FedEx is offering financial incentives as part of this initiative are incorrect," the statement read. "FedEx executives have not had any discussions with BCS conference officials regarding conference realignment."
CBSSports.com asked Boyd for further comment Sunday -- specifically whether the company is categorically denying that Smith has spoken to officials from the Big East and SEC, which multiple sources again on Sunday told CBSSports.com is the case. Furthermore, Boyd was asked why Johnson would refer to Smith and Graf as "assistant ADs" if they weren't aiding his school's bid to join a BCS-affiliate league. Boyd declined further comment, saying only "I believe the statement speaks for itself." She would not expand.
FedEx has consistently been a top 50 spender in sports advertising over the past decade, according to the Sports Business Journal. In 2009, it spent $51.6 million, placing it 48th among sports advertisers. But it should be noted that FedEx decided last month that it will not renew its entitlement of the Orange Bowl for the first time in 21 years. That move, one of the sources said, helped free money in the budget to possibly push Memphis into a power conference.
"The money that used to go to the Orange Bowl is now set to go to a league that will invite Memphis," the source said. "Fred has made it clear he'll put that money back into the budget for the right league. He's driving this thing."
Memphis already plays basketball games inside FedExForum -- an 18,000-seat arena where FedEx owns naming rights through a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis in a BCS-league and thus on television more often would increase the value of those naming rights, which is something Smith recognizes, the source said before adding that such is only a small part of the motivating factor behind this effort.
FedEx also has naming rights on FedExField in Washington.
Though almost anything imaginable remains a possibility, the most likely scenario in this ongoing expansion frenzy, according to multiple sources, is for Memphis to receive an invitation from the Big East soon or after some of the Big East's current members move to the Big Ten. But, a source said, "it's hard to tell how this is going to shake out."
"All I'm telling you is that R.C. seems very confident," the source said. "He doesn't seem worried at all."