The Alabama-Tennessee football game will take place a month from today at Bryant-Denny Stadium, but what if next year's matchup at Neyland Stadium was scrapped?
What if the next college realignment tsunami involves Texas A&M and another university joining the Southeastern Conference's West Division, resulting in Auburn going to the East? Auburn president Jay Gogue said recently that his school would be willing to make that move if asked, but a rather glaring dilemma would develop quicker than a snap to the quarterback.
Would Tennessee remain Alabama's permanent opponent from the East, or would it become Auburn?
"From a guy who grew up in the SEC, it's a little disappointing to see all that's happening in college football," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Wednesday. "I think we're tampering with something that has made college football so special, and that's the fans, the traditions, the rivalries, and the ability to go to road games. With your fan base seeing the same teams every year, you develop a deep history that makes this game special, but nobody is really worried about what I think or what the other coaches think.
"There is not much we can do about it, but I just hope we don't end some of these traditions and rivalries, but I'm afraid if we keep going down this path, that is what's going to happen."
The realignment whirlwind continued last weekend when Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced they would be leaving the Big East and joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, but it slowed Tuesday night when the Pac-12 decided to stay with its dozen. That left Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech looking for ways Wednesday to salvage the bruised Big 12, and it temporarily cooled rumors of Missouri joining the SEC.
Because Texas A&M has been accepted by SEC presidents and chancellors contingent on its Big 12 legal issues being solved, the SEC has begun discussing a 2012 schedule with 13 teams.
"The goal would obviously be to get it done as quickly as possible, but there is really no timeline as far as when we would get a 13-game schedule worked out," SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said. "We haven't had any discussions on a 14-team schedule, because we only have 12 teams, and Texas A&M is the only school we've got an agreement with other than that."
Having Texas A&M come in and immediately play every team in its division is "a principle you would like to achieve," Bloom said. He added that there is no shortage of options in scheduling, but he did not want to speculate on which division Auburn would reside in a 13-team league.
The SEC could choose to alter as little as possible. It could revert back to two permanent opponents from opposite divisions, which would protect Alabama playing both Tennessee and Auburn should the Tigers switch divisions, but it would make most East-West matchups more infrequent. Or it could pursue nine-game league schedules, which is the case currently in the Big 12 and Pac-12.
"It would be extremely tough to expand the number of league games for us in this league," said Auburn's Gene Chizik, whose Tigers are facing seven SEC foes that were ranked among the top 25 preseason teams. "Obviously the rivalries at every school are extremely important, and I think everybody, depending on how this whole thing unfolds, will keep that in high consideration. No one is going to brush the fact that's important under the carpet."
Said Dooley: "There are a lot of different paradigms you can discuss, but it's going to impact a lot of things. What I just hope is that we have a lot of dialogue on all these issues before we make decisions. What concerns me the most is the pace in which these decisions are being made without really thinking through the implications on all fronts."