It seems we go through this every year, doesn't it? We have some massive change and get a shiny new present to open in the fall. Despite knowing that the gift-giving market isn't exactly ideal, we still talk ourselves into hopefulness and anticipation. But then we get pants.
Not that I mind khakis, really. If you know me, you know that I wear them almost exclusively. They're comfy. They look good in both casual and relaxed business environments. And if you bother to buy quality khakis, they can last for years and years. I'm partial to Izod; they wear very nicely, they're built with quality in mind, and they don't fray at the hem. (I can't find them anymore, though; if you know where to get them, please leave a comment in the thread. Thanks.) Given a choice of Izod and a cheaper brand, I'll take the Izod. One Izod is worth 2 or 3 of most other brands because they last so long. But even if I can't find Izod and I have to settle for a cheaper brand, you better not expect me to pay Izod prices for them.
I'm the same way with restaurants. I'm very faithful to the ones I like, but if I notice that the food quality is diminishing and the prices are increasing, I won't go back. I don't have the history with McAlister's / Sam and Andy's that some people do. I liked them when I first tried them, but the quality is gone and the prices are far too high. I haven't been in a McAlister's in months. Perhaps only once or twice in the last year or so, to be honest.
Which brings me to Tennessee football and schedule changes.
I won't even try to be tactful; UT is trying to sell us an inferior product at a superior price. I haven't heard an actual figure on the buyout of the North Carolina Tar Heels game yet, but I'm guessing it's around a million dollars or so. The fans will pay that. Then they'll pay the price to bring the Buffalo Bulls in. Then they'll pay for the seats, the parking fees, and the lousy concessions to watch a game that we just won't be excited about. It's no disrespect to Buffalo, but when you have a chance to play an adjacent-state recruiting rival with a decent program and a coach we once thought about, it's a bit of a letdown to get a team with whom you have no history or emotional connection whatsoever.
On top of that, Tennessee is now the clear P.R. loser in the UT/USC game storyline. Yes, the Trojans offered us a game. Yes, we declined. Yes, we said that it was too late to switch our schedule. Yes, we then swapped North Texas for Montana and UNC for Buffalo. Let's be honest: we may not have 'ducked' USC, but we certainly didn't want anything to do with them. Now, instead of the Trojans and the Tarheels, we get the Grizzlies and the Bulls. Well, at least the only adjective to describe that is a decent pun: un-bear-a-bull.
Remember when Tennessee was the "play anyone, anywhere" team of the SEC? Not anymore. Eight home games. The second FCS team ever (and the second in as many years). Eleventh-hour cancellations of respectable games. Softening the schedule. Tennessee used to play the closest thing to an NFL-type schedule, where nearly every game required the team's best. Now Tennessee plays the very kind of schedule we used to make fun of Georgia for playing (under then-AD Vince Dooley in particular). By the way, we can no longer tease Florida about teams like Charleston Southern. It's a pot-kettle thing.
Look, I understand the 'gauntlet' argument. It's a tough stretch and Tennessee is not as deep as it once was. That doesn't matter. We agreed to the games. We made the schedule and the right thing to do is live up to it. (The North Texas game was excusable; UNT is opening a new stadium in 2011 and wants the first game at home. That's the kind of thing you cancel games for. Tennessee dropped North Carolina out of fear.)
Inferior product at a marked-up price. The cover charge for these switches will guarantee that we're paying Izod level for something nameless out of the bargain bin. And we'll be expected to pay it because passing up on this 'deal' will 'only hurt the players'.
Some will blame Mike Hamilton. Others will blame Derek Dooley. They're both right; these things aren't decided solely by the AD or the head coach. If I had to guess, I'd say that Dooley approached Hamilton about the change, but that's speculation. Besides, no matter who approached whom, both signed off on it.
The only possible benefit to dropping UNC is a better shot at a bowl game. Granted, the conference schedule that year is brutal for UT; adding Cincy and UNC on top of that (especially assuming that Cincy doesn't collapse without Kelly) makes for 10 games where UT could very well win only 3. Buffalo does give a better chance at winning than North Carolina, but if we're really going to add a no-interest game to the schedule for a better postseason consideration, we ought not to be doing it for a chance to play in Shreveport.
A game against UNC would have been televised nationally. A game against Buffalo will end up at the last thing ESPN wants to pick up on the SEC weekend, and I can't blame them. We're losing great exposure, a very interesting game on many levels, our reputation for good scheduling - all for a shot at a break-even bowl game that nobody wants to travel to.
Sometimes, I'm glad I'm a Wyoming alum. At least the price is honest.