After two of the most memorable and meaningful matchups in series history, the Iron Bowl is on the move again.
Alabama and Auburn will square off Saturday, Nov. 26, at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium. The past two BCS champions have cornered national audiences on the Friday after Thanksgiving the last two years, with Auburn's 28-27 victory two months ago at Bryant-Denny Stadium marking the highest-rated college football game of the 2010 regular season.
"You have mixed feelings," CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco said. "Could it have been a long-term Friday game? Sure, but when Auburn and Alabama agreed to move the game to Friday, and it was not an insignificant move, we agreed to only do it for a two-year period and that we would revisit it down the road."
Aresco didn't even approach the two schools about continuing to play on Friday. Alabama won the 2009 meeting 26-21 after trailing 14-0, and Auburn fell behind 24-0 at Bryant-Denny before rallying for the biggest comeback in program history.
The LSU-Arkansas game, which was televised by CBS on the Friday after Thanksgiving from 1996 to 2008 before getting bumped to Saturday, is moving back to Friday for the next two years.
"I did not ask Auburn or Alabama to consider doing it again because I knew they didn't want to do it for more than two years this time around," Aresco said. "And I knew they wouldn't change their mind. That doesn't mean that down the road they might not reconsider, but once I knew that wasn't going to be the Friday game, I knew I wanted to get LSU-Arkansas back.
"Those two have really emerged as top teams, and it's already a tremendous rivalry. It's always a terrific game."
Auburn had an open date before the last two Iron Bowls and has one this year, too. Alabama defeated the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga six days before its '09 trip to Jordan-Hare and moved its game against Georgia State this past season up to a Thursday to have eight days to prepare for the Tigers.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban voiced his concern with the Friday games.
"I said it would be our most significant and our greatest accomplishment if we came down here and won this game," Saban said immediately after the '09 victory. "Under the circumstances, like the short week and a tough offense to prepare for, they had a good football team that we were playing and then to get behind in the game 14-0 -- we never lost our poise and kept playing every play in the game."
When asked last April about facing six SEC teams that had an open date the week before, Saban said, "The thing I'm most concerned about is playing Auburn on a short week when they have a bye week." The moving of the Georgia State game was announced in July.
"Nick Saban was a really standup guy," Aresco said. "He also said he appreciated the opportunity of having a nationally televised game and that it outweighed the concerns that he had. He said it was a great showcase for his program."
THE BIGGEST DRAWS
Six of the nine highest-rated college football games before the bowls in 2010 were SEC showdowns (includes rating/share and households):
11/26 CBS Auburn vs. Alabama 7.3 12,520,000
12/4 CBS Auburn vs. S. Carolina 6.0 10,093,000
9/6 ESPN Boise St. vs. Va. Tech 6.3 9,888,000
12/4 ABC Oklahoma vs. Nebraska 5.3 8,981,000
10/2 CBS Alabama vs. Florida 5.0 8,595,000
11/13 CBS Auburn vs. Georgia 5.0 8,262,000
9/25 CBS Alabama vs. Arkansas 5.2 8,138,000
11/26 ESPN Arizona vs. Oregon 4.5 7,787,000
10/9 CBS S. Carolina vs. Alabama 4.8 7,662,000
The biggest downside to having the Iron Bowl back on Saturday, Aresco admitted, is that CBS has to pick the Alabama-Auburn game or the Florida-Florida State game this year but can not televise both. Under a 15-year agreement with the SEC that began in 2009, the network can show a game Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend but conceded the option of using one of its two allotted doubleheaders on that Saturday.
Under the old pact, when CBS had to share some of the top picks of games each week with ESPN, CBS could televise a game the Friday after Thanksgiving and two on Saturday.
"For the past two years, the Alabama-Auburn game has enjoyed tremendous viewership and attention," Aresco said. "It turned out to be a happy story for everyone -- the schools and CBS. A couple of years from now, they may want to do it again, and if they don't, they don't."
CBS will begin its 16th season as the primary network for SEC football on Sept. 17, when it is expected to televise the Florida-Tennessee game for a 16th straight time. The network has not announced its one prime-time telecast for 2011 but may go with Alabama-Florida for a second straight year.
The Crimson Tide and Gators are scheduled to play Oct. 1, and there would be no shortage of quality matchups for the first game of a day-night doubleheader with Auburn-South Carolina, Arkansas-Texas A&M and Georgia-Mississippi State.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.