Wiedmer: Vols droppng Heels shows weakness

Wiedmer: Vols droppng Heels shows weakness

August 18th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Opinion Columns

Herman Schrader and his wife Mary have been University of Tennessee football season-ticket holders for more than 40 years. For the last decade or so that's meant driving from their East Ridge home to the Kmart on Highway 58 early on the morning of every home game, then boarding a bus with friends for the two-hour ride to Neyland Stadium.

"Section K in the South end zone, 51 rows up," Schrader said Tuesday evening. "Only place we've ever sat."

And he's excited to start another season of Big Orange football on Sept. 4, when the Vols host UT-Martin.

"Oh, I look forward to it every year," Schrader said. "To me, it's so much more than the game. I love to watch the crowd, watch the people. I love the whole atmosphere. I even love watching the warm-ups."

But he didn't love hearing that Tennessee has decided to drop a two-game series with North Carolina that was set to begin next season in favor of non-BCS conference foe Buffalo of the Mid-American Conference.

"Now that's something I don't like," he said. "I like playing UCLA, North Carolina, Oregon, teams like that. I don't like pushovers."

The Vols apparently believe so strongly that North Carolina is capable of pushing over UT's bowl hopes for next season that they're willing to pay the Tar Heels $750,000 to cancel the contract.

"Personally, it's kind of a downer for me because I was looking forward to playing Carolina as a North Carolina native," UT athletic director Mike Hamilton told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "But without the ability to move it later in the decade, we felt like we needed to break that six-game stretch up and put a non-BCS team in there."

Assuming the Vols haven't fallen so far so fast that they're shaking in their Adidas cleats over opening the 2011 season with North Texas and Cincinnati, that stretch would have begun on Week 3 with a road trip to Florida, followed by a visit to Chapel Hill, an off week, home games against Georgia and LSU, back on the road against Alabama and a home game on Halloween weekend against South Carolina.

Even the game after that is no picnic, what with dangerous and rapidly improving Middle Tennessee dropping in. Cap that off with road trips to Arkansas and Kentucky sandwiched around a home game against Vanderbilt and it's easy to see why Hamilton or football coach Derek Dooley might search for relief anywhere it can be found.

But it's also not like these are the basketball Tar Heels of Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and Phil Ford. And even if they were, do you think Vols hoops boss Bruce Pearl would ask for a buyout?

Pearl would be more likely to ask the NCAA for a waiver to face Jordan, Carter and Tyler Hansbrough all at the same time, just to make it all more fun and frenzied and marketable.

If it were Pearl, he'd even request the shot clock be turned off so the Heels could go to the Four Corners one last time, especially if it would get him a Saturday 9 p.m. tipoff on ESPN's flagship network.

Obviously, basketball isn't football. One loss never kills you in hoops until it's the last game of the season. Every game counts in football, as the BCS boys are only too happy to remind us. And a loss at UNC could turn a potential UT bowl season next autumn into a 5-7 campaign, complete with all those lost bowl practices.

There's also the matter of adding another home game next season by dropping UNC. With that extra $3 million they'll pocket, the Vols can buy off the Heels, slip a few hundred thousand dollars Buffalo's way and still come out way ahead.

Still, isn't a contract a contract? And shouldn't Tennessee be big enough to honor it? Sure, the scholarships are down. But they aren't that down. Furthermore, remember how Pearl used his four suspended players last January to shock No. 1 Kansas? Maybe UT loses to UNC next season, but in 2012 that same matchup in Neyland could give them the kind of early victory that they could ride to a storybook campaign.

But this may be the best reason the Vols should have kept their word and the UNC series:

Said ticket holder Schrader of the supposed certainty of beating the Bulls as opposed to a possible loss to the Tar Heels: "I'd rather see us lose to North Carolina than beat Buffalo."

Too bad the UT brass doesn't feel the same.