Five months ago, the Tennessee/Memphis hoops rivalry appeared dead. The final game in the series was on the docket for the first week of January and supposedly there were no ongoing discussions about creating a new contract. Tiger coach Josh Pastner — who doesn’t want to let schools like Tennessee or Arkansas into Memphis for recruiting purposes — went so far as to say these (famous last) words:
“We will not play Tennessee anymore as long as I’m the head coach and I’m doing my scheduling.”
“The facts are, this will be the last year of the series unless we play them in the postseason. Now obviously, if any of my bosses want to play them, that’s… Me, as the head coach, the series is over, the contract is over, let’s move on.”
“The contract’s ending, we have a new athletic director and he and I are on the same page with it.”
So much for being on the same page with his boss, AD Tim Bowen. Yesterday Tennessee AD Dave Hart told The Knoxville News Sentinel that the two schools have “agreed in principle to a four-year home-and-home series in men’s basketball.”
“We’re going to play,” Hart said. “We’re going to continue the basketball series.”
Ah, but Memphis officials have told The Memphis Commercial Appeal (behind a paywall), that no deal is in place until football is part of the equation.
There’s no surprise in any of this. As we wrote in January, historically Tennessee has used its occasional gridiron games with Memphis as leverage to keep the hoops series with the Tigers alive. It seems as if that’s part of the process this time around, too.
Tennessee: Want a big ‘ol football game? Play us in basketball.
Memphis: Well, OK. But basketball’s not a done deal ’til we line up a football date.
Tennessee: Well, OK.
The most likely end game? Both schools will agree to an annual tilt in basketball and semi-annual contests in football. Same as it ever was.
Unfortunately for Pastner, he’ll be left with egg on his face thanks to his AD not being upfront with him regarding the need to schedule Tennessee.