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Is This The Real Reason Tennessee Backed Out?

Interesting comment coming from Austin Ward of to The Insiders on 620 The Buzz:

"I don't mean to insult North Carolina fans here but the perception is if you go play a basketball school or an ACC school and they're close to you regionally there's more to gain for North Carolina than Tennessee," Ward said. "It's sort of like, and this is a stretch, when you play those FCS teams and they have everything to gain, it's they're [sic] Super Bowl and they come out really charged up. There's no big benefit. You're supposed to beat them if you're Tennessee and if you lose there's the embarrassment factor."

Tim Hall over at Fankind goes straight for the classic political spin read on this with his headline:

Vols want out because UNC is like an FCS school

I am not sure I would go that far. On one hand I understand the mentality since it is basically the same thing I said last year about playing ECU. There is a notable difference. ECU is an in-state school hailing from a non-BCS conference. There is a question as to whether the consequences of losing are worth even putting ECU on the schedule. Which is not to say UNC is scared of ECU. I think if UNC were not under the gun from the North Carolina General Assembly they would happily swap ECU for UConn or even a different Conference USA team. The proximity and ECU's "little brother" status makes playing them more of a hassle than say Tulsa or SMU.In short UNC is not scared of playing a school the caliber of ECU, but rather the whole idea of dealing with an annoying sibling is a major turn off.

In Tennessee's case, no one coerced them into signing the contract to play UNC. Hall points out that if the potential damage of losing was such a concern why schedule the game in the first place? The answer is, at the time, they thought Lane Kiffin would have them riding top 15 making beating the lowly "basketball school" much more of a sure thing. Then Lane Kiffin left and Tennessee followed the Lee Fowler coaching search playbook before bringing in a guy who went 17-20 at Louisiana Tech. There were recruit defections and suddenly Tennessee is looking at a trip to Chapel Hill in 2011 thinking "yeah, we're screwed." That, in itself, is sort of comical since UNC is likely to be a little down in 2011, at least on the defensive side of the ball. But I digress. [Doc] Plus, football schedules are often made 5-8 years in advance. Remember John Bunting's first years in Chapel Hill with Texas and Oklahoma on the schedule? Those games were scheduled when UNC was riding high in the mid-90s with 10-win seasons. It probably made sense in 2005 for UT to add UNC to the schedule. Carry on.

Tennessee can try to spin this but the primary issue for the Vols is the "if" in the above statement about losing being embarrassment looks more like a "when" thus the need to back out and fill the slot with Buffalo. Plus, it has been pointed out by Clay Travis that this decision carries all sorts of unintended consequences. It hurts head-to-head recruiting with UNC since Butch Davis can say UT is scared to play UNC. It also hurts UT in terms of their own strength of schedule. If the Vols are truly interested in being a top flight program, why weaken your schedule unless you think the SEC gauntlet is so demanding the non-conference slate is inconsequential which is where the "too vigorous" a schedule talk comes from. The mystique of the SEC is such that no one really cares who UT or Florida or Alabama or Georgia play outside the league since the conference schedule is like the World Cup Group of Death. As long as they do not schedule two IAA teams and the I-A teams have a pulse, supremacy is perceived because it is the SEC.

Regardless, it still looks like cowardice to walk away from playing a border rival in what could have been a nice series. I know UNC's reputation but as Travis points out, the Heels currently look better off(NCAA investigation notwithstanding) and also have a better coach. Walking away just looks bad. It looks like the Vols are scared and so scared they would rather back up a Brinks truck to the Kenan Expansion then schedule Buffalo to make the money back. Not that Dick Baddour is complaining too much except now UNC has to fill a hole in their schedule which means 2011 will likely be another double-dip in the IAA pool for the Heels.