Surely the Volunteers were chickens for refusing to play the coach who'd spurned them so recently, right?
Appearing on a radio show I co-host this afternoon, UT athletic director Mike Hamilton gave Tennessee's side of the story. "It's gamesmanship guys, that's all it is," Hamilton said.
Asked whether USC was putting out this story to help deflect attention from the recent player defections from Los Angeles to Knoxville, Hamilton laughed. "That's what your show's about," he said. "You don't expect me to answer that question, do you?" Then he continued, "This is something (the fact that the game wasn't happening) that's been known for some time between the two institutions."
So it's not a coincidence that the story came out Wednesday, especially not in conjunction with Kiffin losing top recruit Seantrel Henderson Wednesday. It's an attempt to shift the story from one of loss to one of victory.
Hamilton discussed how the game became a possibility. "In Destin (the SEC spring meetings last month), he (director of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game) approached us and asked (if UT would) be interested in playing Southern Cal next year (2011) and that's the first he'd mentioned it to us. We said, 'No, it's not going to work for our schedule, but we'll be glad to look at playing them somewhere down the road and, oh by the way, we've got a verbal agreement to play them on a home-and-home.' "
That verbal agreement between Tennessee and USC is for home-and-home in 2021-22. But that's a decade from now, a lifetime in college football. Given his meteoric rise, by 2021 Lane Kiffin might have already finished his first term as United States president. By then, he won't even care about college football. That's why Kiffin wants to play his former team, the Volunteers, now, as the opener to the 2011 season in a primetime game in Atlanta's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
Having coached both teams, Kiffin is aware that the Trojans will have superior talent in that game, and he'd get the opportunity to return to the fertile recruiting fields of Atlanta. What's more, look at USC's 2011 schedule. In the grips of probation and without a bowl game to play for, what game on their present schedule is a big sell to national recruits?
Minnesota, Syracuse and Notre Dame are the out-of-conference games in 2011.
Kiffin craves attention like Lindsey Lohan does, but there isn't much attention on that 2011 slate. As if that wasn't bad enough here are SC's 2010 out-of-conference games: Minnesota, Virginia, Hawaii, and Notre Dame.
None of these seven games over the next two years, save the traditional rivalry game against Notre Dame, has one iota of juice on a national level.
If you're trying to recruit on a national level in the midst of probation, you need to get outside the Pacific time zone. In the next two seasons, the Trojans are scheduled to leave that time zone just three times -- and one of those times is in Hawaii where they'll receive even less attention.
But a season opener against Tennessee in Atlanta?
That would be the biggest opener in USC's recent history, a game that would allow Kiffin to sell to recruits in the South who he's trying to recruit to USC.
A game that would be talked about for months.
Let's break down some other key elements of Kiffin's scheduling grenade toss.
1. Give Lane Kiffin credit, he played this story perfectly.
Just as the national pendulum begins to swing toward the danger facing the Trojan football team as it pertains to defections, Kiffin gets to challenge Tennessee with the knowledge that the Vols aren't likely to accept.
He has nothing to lose by leaking a month-old story now.
He already knows the Vols have declined, in this story he looks like the tough guy, the coach who made the other team blink.
Even by extending the offer he has nothing to lose.
If the Vols accept, he enters 2011 with the better team, a favorable schedule, and gets the chance to return his new team to the Atlanta area where he snagged several big-time recruits while with the Vols.
If the Vols decline, he points to the lack of interest as indications that his former football program is afraid of his current program. What's more he gets to make the same argument to recruits.
Bang, he played the story like a professional violinist.
2. While we mentioned USC's weak schedule, Tennessee's 2011 schedule is already brutal.
You can criticize the Volunteer football program for quite a bit, but scheduling cupcakes isn't usually a valid one. In the next few years the Vols will play home-and-homes with Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska, and Ohio State.
That's in addition to the SEC slate.
How would you like to be Derek Dooley staring down this gauntlet:
|Sept. 3||home||North Texas|
|Sept. 24||away||North Carolina|
|Oct. 29||home||South Carolina|
3. USC hasn't returned the home-and-home contract that they've had since January of 2010.
Potentially this is because USC athletic director Mike Garrett is unaware that football contracts have to be signed.
More seriously, it's likely because USC has decided they don't want to play the series.
"It's a series that I've been calling about since January to ask about the contract and I haven't received it," said Mike Hamilton. "I take it to mean that maybe they're not as interested to play the game and we'll look to find another home-and-home type opponent for that time frame."
4. Finances, finances.
Hamilton told us that the gate of the neutral site Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is split equally.
So in order to play this game in 2011 Tennessee would have to give up a home game, knocking down the number of home games to six.
Seven home games is an absolute minimum for Hamilton.
What's more, keep in mind that the Vols are already playing N.C. State in this game in 2012.
Hamilton said the end result of a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game would be a hopeful net of $2.5 million per team or thereabouts.
That compares to revenue in excess of $6 million for a home game in the 100,000-plus seat Neyland Stadium.
So the Vols would be taking a financial hit of several million dollars to play this game in 2011.
5. The buyout for Tennessee's opening game in 2011, North Texas, is $200,000.
That's not an enormous sum, but it is a guaranteed victory, perhaps the only guaranteed victory that the Vols have in the first eight games of the 2011 season.
Could USC reimburse that cost?
"I'm sure you could," said Hamilton, "but we're not interested in playing USC next year. I don't know if you've taken a look at our schedule in 2011, but it's pretty brutal."
"We'll play SC," Hamilton continued, "but it needs to be at a time when we're better ready to play them, three or four years down the road or when we have a game scheduled against them that we had verbally agreed to."
6. If Lane Kiffin really wants to up the ante on this story, USC forgoes all revenue from the kickoff game.
Tell the Vols they can keep the entire gate since the reality is that over 90 percent of the fans in the opening game would be rooting for the Vols anyway.
That would mean that Tennessee would end up with around the same amount from a game in Atlanta as a home game.
That way you eliminate the financial considerations that ensue from UT losing money on a home game and then effectively giving the Trojans the ticket revenue from ticket purchases made by Vol fans.
Would USC throw down the financial gauntlet and offer to play the game for free minus expenses?
Then things would get interesting.
And if the Vols still said no?
Well, Kiffin could have a field day with that.
7. Ultimately, is UT being cowardly or smart?
But, even still, is a home game win against North Texas worth more to the program long range than a loss to USC?
I'm not so sure.
What if Dooley beat Kiffin and USC in the opener to his second season?
That game alone is probably worth two years of additional tenure. And if he loses it, well, the Vols were expected to lose. USC is simply better.
Selfishly, I, and a lot of other Vol fans want this game to happen.
If only to see whether or not someone will attempt to eat Layla Kiffin's children in the Georgia Dome.
I joke, I joke.
If, as Mike Hamilton said, the Vols are willing to play in three or four years, just not right now, in the midst of rebuilding a team, why not go ahead and pencil in a 2014 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game between USC and the Vols?
There's your compromise.
By that point, USC's probation will be over and Tennessee will be either sinking or swimming with Dooley at the helm.
Let's make it happen.