KNOXVILLE - The University of Tennessee certainly hopes its football schedule is easier next season.
The wait for the Volunteers and the rest of the Southeastern Conference to find out will continue at least through the weekend, however.
Following the recent additions of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, the league has yet to release its adjusted 14-team schedule for 2012. Two SEC athletic directors said publicly last week that the release would come before Christmas, but the SEC posted a statement on its official Twitter account Thursday updating the situation's status.
"Working through the final stages of the 2012 football schedule," the statement read. "We'll release it once it's complete, but not before Christmas."
UT athletic director Dave Hart did not disclose a time in which to expect the SEC's new schedule in an interview with the Times Free Press late last week.
"We've been heavily involved as athletic directors through the commissioner, Mike Slive, and the SEC staff," Hart said. "We've met very regularly and recently met again, just to try to come to a decision on next year's schedule. We've got to get '12 done, and then we can worry about beyond '12. We've made progress on that.
"We're not sliding into home just yet, but we've made a lot of progress on that and understand that we've got to get there so people can make decisions and put their ticket packages together and so on and so forth. We're gaining ground on that."
The Vols know their nonconference slate. They open the season in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta against North Carolina State as part of the two-game Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic that includes an Auburn-Clemson matchup. Georgia State (Sept. 8), Akron (Sept. 22) and Troy (Nov. 3) will visit Knoxville, though those games have been announced only by those schools.
With Missouri joining the SEC's East Division, a game against the Tigers would replace one of UT's SEC West opponents. Before the league expanded, the Vols were slated to host Arkansas after facing the Razorbacks in Fayetteville this season, and Mississippi State was to rotate onto UT's schedule in place of LSU. The Vols would have traveled to Starkville in addition to hosting Alabama, the Vols' yearly West opponent.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long told ArkansasNews.com before the Razorbacks' home basketball game Tuesday that he expected to keep South Carolina as his school's permanent East opponent.
"I only hesitate because I'm not exactly sure how they change," he said, "but some of those things changed. We may not have the same rotation in effect for 2012. It likely won't be."
It's expected that UT will host Missouri and draw Mississippi State and Alabama from the West. On the surface, that would appear to be a more favorable road than the Vols faced this season, when they faced the West's top three teams. The order of UT's schedule isn't expected to change drastically from recent years.
As for the schedule beyond next season, Hart said it's not been addressed. South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman told The State newspaper in Columbia that the 2012 schedule would be "a transition year." How the format, rotations or even number of conference games may or may not change is unknown.
"We haven't talked about that," Hart said. "We've been focused solely on '12 and getting '12 done because we're sitting here in the middle of December. There's urgency to get '12 done. We'll have time to peek ahead to future considerations, but all of our conversations have centered on getting '12 done."