Turns out January’s fuss over the death of Tennessee-Memphis wasn’t a eulogy.
Bringing order to a rivalry nearly gone awry, UT athletic director Dave Hart told the News Sentinel on Wednesday that Tennessee and Memphis have “agreed in principle to a four-year home-and-home series in men’s basketball.”
While discussions related to the universities meeting in football are ongoing, the basketball conversation has reached closure.
“We’re going to play,” Hart said. “We’re going to continue the basketball series.”
When the Vols and Tigers met on Jan. 4 at Thompson-Boling Arena, the affair was billed as the last meeting between the two for the foreseeable future. An eight-year home-and-home series beginning in 2005-06 had come to an end.
Memphis won the day, 85-80, to narrow the all-time series 14-11.
As he has been since he was a second-year coach in 2011, Memphis coach Josh Pastner outwardly objected to continuing the Tennessee series past this season. Prior to the January game he said, “We will not play Tennessee anymore as long as I’m the head coach and I’m doing my scheduling.”
Asked Wednesday about the potential of a new four-year home-and-home with the UT, Pastner, who received an extension for an undisclosed amount of years on a contract signed through 2015-16, said, “Whatever my athletic director says is what I roll with. We’re locked arm-in-arm on this one.”
In response to a request for comment, Memphis athletic director Tom Bowen said through a university spokesperson, “We have had talks and they do pertain to both football and basketball. Nothing can be scheduled until the American Athletic Conference works out its future scheduling issues.”
Hart and Bowen have spoken in the last three weeks about renewing the series.
On Wednesday, Hart said Tennessee and Memphis could return to the floor as soon as 2014-15. A meeting next season is off the table.
The schools are scheduled to meet in football in 2017. The game is left over from the previous contract between the schools — a deal signed in 2003 for five football times in a nine-year period and an eight-year home-and-home basketball series.
Hart said a basketball agreement between the schools will not be stipulated by future football games, but added, “We’re having very serious conversations about going beyond the one (2017) football commitment.”
“I think football is a little different in the sense of the variables,” he continued. “We need to see where we’re going in scheduling before we absolutely put something in stone that we can’t keep on the books. That’s not a forecast. That’s a common sense caution.”
A caution based on unpredictability. Memphis is set to embark on its new membership in the newly aligned and maligned American Athletic Conference. The league is home to the remnants of the Big East Conference and a jumble of nemcomers. Future scheduling in the AAC is tough when the future is unclear.
The same can be said for the Vols and down-the-road SEC scheduling. A switch to a nine-game league slate could trim potential non-conference scheduling opportunities.
Hart said a formal announcement will be made when a contract is agreed upon, but that “there’s no timetable.”
“I don’t want to set a false expectation there,” he said. “We’ll take that agreement in principle and turn it into a formal agreement.”
Tennessee leads the all-time football series 22-1 with the Tigers’ lone win coming in 1996 at the Liberty Bowl. The Vols have won the last seven, including the last meeting in 2010, a 50-14 thumping.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.