A college basketball season is a long haul, from the opener against Southwest-Hyphen State until the last gasp of March. It needs transcendent moments along the journey.
Tennessee-Memphis has provided transcendent moments. However, this annual eruption of intrastate passion is dribbling toward the Rivalry Cliff.
Tonight's game at Thompson-Boling Arena wraps up the latest contract between the two schools. The future is unclear.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner wants to take his ball and stay home, vowing this week he'd never schedule UT again as long as he has power over his schedule.
Play on, says Tennessee. What a relief to find out Thursday that negotiations for more basketball and football games are in fact on the table.
So Pastner probably won't have control over his schedule. Let's hope not. Let's hope the respective athletic directors, Dave Hart of UT and Tom Bowen of Memphis, see a bigger picture.
If the series ended, who wins? Perhaps Memphis signs some future local blue-chipper because the kid has never seen Tennessee play in the FedExForum. If so, chalk one up for Pastner.
The losers? That's easy. It's the fans and the players — on both sides.
Which comes as no surprise. How many important decisions have tilted toward the fans or players in this confounding era of conference realignment?
This rivalry, arriving in a difficult birth, is worth saving. Ground was broken in a holiday tournament in 1969, but it wasn't until 1988 that a regular-season series launched with UT winning a 76-74 thriller.
There have been 24 meetings, 10 of which have been decided by either one or two points. That's one gauge of a great rivalry.
Of Tennessee's past 24 games against Kentucky, only two have been decided by two points. Same with Vanderbilt.
The most transcendent moment of them all was Feb. 23, 2008. No. 2 Tennessee outlasted No. 1 Memphis 66-62 in a throbbing FedExForum that threatened to levitate off its Beale Street moorings.
It was only ESPN's most watched college basketball game ever. But who needs that when you can schedule Oral Roberts.
I've sat courtside at 20 of the 24 UT-Memphis games. They weren't all nationally significant. Heaven knows they weren't all artistic.
But they were all fun, judging from the crowd's intensity, whether in Memphis or Knoxville.
The players felt that way, too.
"This is one of my favorite games of the year,'' UT's Scotty Hopson said two years ago before a crowd of 18,884 witnessed one of the rare routs, a 104-84 Tennessee victory.
I get why Pastner doesn't want to play the Vols. From a geographical recruiting standpoint, he gains zip.
Memphis signed a Knoxville kid in 1968. That's it.
Tennessee, naturally, wants to fly the orange flag in Shelby County in hopes of occasionally prying a recruit away from the hometown school whose tradition includes three Final Fours.
In this case, fans should matter more than recruits.
Look around. Kentucky plays Louisville. Florida plays Florida State. Georgia plays Georgia Tech. Clemson plays South Carolina. Fans win.
Cincinnati plays Xavier. Fans win. In Philadelphia, fans really win. The Big Five (Temple, Penn, Villanova, LaSalle and St. Joe) all mix it up annually.
In Tennessee, the Vols and Memphis are guaranteed only 40 more minutes. If this one goes over the Rivalry Cliff, fans lose.
It's a long season. It needs moments like Tennessee-Memphis.