Schedule Away

Brace yourself, Alabama fans. Before you read this column, take a few deep breaths, collect the loose items surrounding your computer and put them away, out of your grasp.

OK, ready? Good.

The University of Alabama needs Tennessee.

And Tennessee needs Alabama. Seriously.

Over the past five years, the idea of the Crimson Tide and Volunteers helping each other has sounded about as ridiculous as your average celebrity marriage. But the time has come for the two programs to put their differences aside – at least for a minute or two – and work together, with the Southeastern Conference, for the benefit of both.

Think it sounds crazy?

Maybe it does, but read on.

Earlier this year, the NCAA passed legislation extending the college football season to 12 games. While generally lauded as a smart rule, the news left some big-time schools with a problem: how would they fill their schedule?

Would they schedule a rent-a-victory against a Division I-AA or low-major patsy like Western Carolina or New Mexico State?

Or would they treat their fans right with a legit, big-time BCS opponent for a home-and-home series or one-shot neutral-site game?

Alabama chose the latter.

Although the Tide is likely to schedule Atlantic Coast Conference doormat Duke for 2006 – a move likely made on the premise that the program is still recovering from severe NCAA sanctions – bigger names are on the way.

UA Athletic Director Mal Moore recently stated that negotiations are underway for the Tide to play Florida State at Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium in September 2007.

That's a smart game for Alabama on so many levels: Florida State's national clout and big-name recognition make it a natural matchup. And Birmingham's Bobby Bowden – once passed over for the Alabama job – will be in the final year of his contract in 2007, meaning it will be his final chance to take on the Tide, something he's never done in his career.

The game would be an instant sellout and a financial success. So why haven't the contracts been signed yet?

One word: money.

The Southeastern Conference and Alabama have a lucrative contract with CBS for national telecast of its best games. Each Saturday, CBS gets first pick of league games for broadcast in an exclusive, national 2:30 p.m. time slot – something no college football conference and only one other school (Notre Dame with NBC) can boast.

Naturally, the SEC and CBS want the TV rights for an Alabama-FSU clash, and can you blame them?

But as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Florida State has its own TV interests. The ACC has a contract with ABC, and while it isn't nearly as good (the ACC shares a 2:30 p.m. timeslot on ABC with the Big 12, Big 10 and Pac 10, with each league getting its best game regionally televised), a deal is a deal, and ABC is interested in Alabama-FSU rights, too.

Only one network can televise the game, and that could wreck a potentially great deal.

It'd be a real loss to college football fans if that happened – which is where the Vols come in.

Recently, NASCAR mogul Bruton Smith, Jr., offered Tennessee and Virginia Tech a guarantee of $20 million apiece to meet at his Bristol Motor Speedway, which sits in Bristol, Tenn., on the Tennessee/Virginia border.

That, too, is an attractive and lucrative deal for both schools – a national caliber neutral-site game against a natural regional rival.

Here's the rub: like Alabama-FSU, this is an SEC-ACC matchup. Hence the potential problems with TV rights, royalties, etc.

Here's a solution so simple it's unbelievable – let Alabama, Tennessee, Florida State and Virginia Tech work together.

Put Alabama-FSU on a CBS national telecast.

Put Tennessee-Virginia Tech on an ABC national telecast.

There. Was that so hard?

Let the Crimson Tide and Vols put their hatchets down and work together for the mutual good of the group. It sounds silly, especially considering the blood feud that has roiled between UT and Alabama for the past decade or so, but it makes sense.

Adding FSU to Alabama's schedule and Tech to UT's slate makes both schedules stronger, and both teams stronger. By proxy, that leaves both teams better off for having played one another in these days of BCS polls and national perception. Frankly, there's no reason for this deal not to get done.

There will be plenty of time for the participants to hate each other once the ink dries on the contracts.


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