Second reaction: But it's good business.
Third reaction: They still should be embarrassed.
I can understand why any football coach - particularly one confronted with as many challenges as UT's Derek Dooley - wouldn't want to play North Carolina on the road in 2011. But that's why you have athletic directors at virtually every athletic department in the country except Vanderbilt's.
An athletic director should be able to figure out there are worse fates than a football loss to a basketball school. Running scared is one of them.
There's rational thinking behind the decision to buy out of the contract with North Carolina. You replace the Tar Heels with Buffalo, and you're rewarded with a likely victory and an eighth game at Neyland Stadium. Moreover, you enhance the Vols' chances of qualifying for a bowl after the 2011 season.
You think this year's schedule is tough? Next year's might have been tougher with North Carolina. It includes Alabama, LSU and Arkansas from the SEC West, as well as a non-conference game with Cincinnati. SEC depth charts are similarly daunting. The Vols have more senior starters than any other team in the SEC East except Florida, and no one would argue that UT has comparable young talent to the Gators.
So, replacing North Carolina with Buffalo could mean the difference between sitting out postseason play and playing in a lower-echelon bowl - a wintry week in Birmingham, Ala., for example.
How embarrassing is it for a program with UT's tradition not to qualify for a bowl?
Answer: Less embarrassing than buying out of a game with North Carolina.
It's a basketball school. It plays in the ACC. It's projected to finish as low as fourth in its own division. It has 14 senior starters and likely will lose a junior to the NFL draft.
You're running from that?
A couple of years ago, Rick Neuheisel was hired to rebuild a rundown UCLA program. His challenge was similar to Dooley's. Neuheisel's team was short on numbers as well as talent, so he couldn't have been looking forward to a two-game series with UT, which had come tantalizingly close to upsetting LSU in the 2007 SEC championship game.
But the games went on as scheduled. And the Bruins won both of them, in the Rose Bowl on Labor Day night in 2008 and a year later in Neyland Stadium.
UT players won't get a chance to beat North Carolina. But they can take out their frustration on Buffalo and whomever the Vols decide to sub for Cincinnati.
I'm not breaking news. I'm just assuming that since UT athletic director Mike Hamilton has deemed North Carolina too risky a challenge, he also will want to jettison the Bearcats from the 2011 schedule. After all, they're picked to finish fourth in the Big East this season and start only seven seniors. Scary stuff, huh?
I strongly recommend Miami of Ohio as a replacement. The Redhawks went 1-11 last season and are picked to finish last in the East Division of the Mid-American Conference.
Middle Tennessee State needs to go, too. The Blue Raiders were 10-3 last season and are picked to win the Sun Belt in 2010. So what if their starting lineup is loaded with seniors. Why risk messing with MTSU when you can make it disappear with a check? The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are so much more appealing, as evidenced by their 63-7 loss to UT in the 2009 season opener.
Hamilton probably has them on speed dial.
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.