Schedule Blues (or, How I Learned to Cope with the Decline of Tennessee Football)
After this week’s bye week, the Vols will host the mighty Buffalo Bulls of the Mid-American Conference (MAC). That gets me back up on my soap box.
Back in 2010, then AD Mike Hamilton felt he “needed to break that six-game stretch up (in 2011) and put a non-BCS team in there.” He was referring to the part of the schedule beginning last week against the Gators: at Florida, at North Carolina, vs Georgia, vs LSU, at Alabama, and vs South Carolina.
That kind of schedule will keep you up at night.
So, sleepless Hamilton and the powers at large decided to buy their way out of the North Carolina game (since you obviously can’t do that for conference tilts).
Hamilton claimed to have talked to UNC about this for months, even when Fulmer and Kiffin were coaches. Apparently, UT’s preference was to play the home-and-home series later in this decade, instead of this season and the next when the Vols would be “well under the limits on scholarships and therefore low on depth” to quote Knoxville News Sentinel writer Austin Ward. Obviously, Hamilton expected (or at least planned for) the worst during the first couple of years of the Derek Dooley era.
UNC didn’t want to give ground on the dates. So, we negotiated our exit. Financially, it made sense for the short term – we traded a road game (costing us about a cool million to get out of it) for a $3 million home game – and admittedly that six game stretch as originally planned might have been enough to keep the 2011 Vols out of a bowl game.
A few days ago, it was announced that Tennessee will host Georgia State at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville next season (8 Sept 2012), the first ever meeting between the two schools. GSU is currently an independent in the FCS and will join the Colonial Athletic Association for 2012. Bill Curry – yes that Bill Curry – is their Head Coach. Last season, GSU’s final game was a loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa, 63-7. They also played schools named Shorter and Lambuth (they beat one of them – I’ll let you guess who).
Last year was also GSU’s first ever in football – that will make for a short post next year when I write a history of their football program.
Why in the world would we play somebody like GSU?
The short history of Georgia State football is interesting, I must admit.
A feasibility study was conducted by the University to assess the interest and potential cost to add a Div I FSC football team. Former coach Dan Reeves was to assist with the study of football for GSU and also help with fundraising.
During October 2007, the University approved a proposal from the Athletics Department for an $85 per semester increase to support football (in addition to more women’s sports and a marching band). The Georgia Dome was chosen to be the home stadium. The following year saw Bill Curry being named as the first football head coach.
Big names, a big stadium, and a big football city and state.
So, it is likely a big feather in the cap of Georgia State Football to be able to play at Neyland Stadium, and it is kind of a warming idea that Tennessee can play a part in ushering in GSU to the big time.
The rest of the Vols’ non-conference schedule for 2012 will be NC State in Atlanta (1 Sept), and Akron (22 Sept) and Troy (3 Nov) in Neyland Stadium.
With a home schedule of GSU, Akron, and Troy, we may start seeing attendances in Knoxville of far less than 90,000.
And, according to FBSschedules.com, Tennessee will buy out of their 2013 football game at Oregon, based on a tweet by Rob Moseley of The Register Guard. Tennessee released a response tweet via the UT Twitter account: “Contrary to reports, our head coach and team expect to make the trip to Oregon in ’13 unless they cancel.” The speculation of course is that (a) this has to do with the impending SEC expansion requiring a 9-game conference schedule, and/or (b) we’re pulling another UNC-type deal to lighten the load.
Georgia reportedly got out of their future series with the Ducks, too.
So, regardless of the reasons involved, scheduling schools with sub-par football traditions feels like we’re losing some of the fabric of our rich history and tradition.
Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before we also get out of the home-and-away agreements we have with Oklahoma, Ohio State, and Nebraska in the coming years.