Whether Memphis coach Josh Pastner likes it or not, those in charge are working to continue the rivalry between Tennessee and Memphis men's basketball.
In an interview before Friday's meeting between the Vols and Tigers at Thompson-Boling Arena, UT athletic director Dave Hart said that he and Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen spoke Thursday and "agreed that we should continue the series."
"In what form and what will happen next year, nobody is certain of, but at some point we've got to continue the series," Hart added.
Friday night's matchup between Tennessee and Memphis marks the final meeting in an eight-year, home-and-away contract dating back to 2005-06. The deal coincided with a five-game home-and-home football agreement with one remaining contest scheduled for 2017 in Knoxville.
Hart said Friday night that whether it's against the Tigers or not, the Vols will play inside the Memphis city limits in the future.
"Let's say at the end of the day, for whatever reason, they reverse field and don't want to play, well we'll play a neutral-site game there," Hart said. "We're going to have a presence in Memphis. I'd prefer to be against Memphis. I'd like to play Memphis. That makes the most sense."
Pastner began the week's buildup to the game by reaffirming a long-held desire to end the rivalry. On Monday he said, "We will not play Tennessee anymore as long as I'm the head coach and I'm doing my scheduling."
Hart said he "recently called Tom after reading some of the things Josh was saying" and the two have had "multiple conversations centered on men's basketball."
Bowen left Pastner on an island Thursday, making contrary comments that, "We are re-evaluating (continuing the series)" and tossing in that playing the Vols is "important for us."
Since those comments, Pastner has eased off his unbending desire to see the rivalry end. He responded to the Commercial Appeal on Friday saying, "We're just going to re-evaluate everything when the year is done on the scheduling to see what's best. We want to see what's going on with the Big East schedule and everything else."
The uncertainty surrounding Tennessee-Memphis consumed both programs as the week progressed to Friday's meeting. Questions of whether future games would be played grew more important than the game itself.
On Friday, former UT coach Bruce Pearl opined that he "would be disappointed if the series were to end" in a 1,086-word ESPN.com article questioning Pastner's motives in spiking the series.
Hart echoed Pearl's sentiment.
"Our position has been very constant," he said. "This series is important for the state of Tennessee and it's important to college basketball. As I said to Tom, 'Why would we not continue to meet.' He's been great and we're going to continue those conversations.
"(Bowen) wants to see what's going on with the Big East, which I understand, but he also wants this series to continue."
Regarding Tennessee and Memphis hammering out a deal for future football games in addition to 2017, Hart said, "We haven't gotten there yet because we've been totally focused on this series."
According to Hart, Bowen told him he'd like his Tigers to play UT in "a lot of sports."
"I said he can get to that, too, because that makes a lot of sense as well," Hart said.