TV Or Not TV: That Is The Question

The Southeastern Conference office, with a bizarre interpretation of its own rules, has forced Auburn to play its third early game of this season.

Auburn did not want to play Saturday's game against LSU in the early time slot for Jefferson-Pilot television. As late as Saturday night, it didn't appear it would have to. But behind-the-scenes telephone calls changed everything. The result is hat the game will be played at 11:30 a.m. and televised by Jefferson-Pilot.

Athletic director David Housel didn't want to do it. Head coach Tommy Tuberville didn't want to do it. It didn't matter.

"We did not want to play the game at 11:30," Housel said. "We didn't feel like we had to. We felt like we had more than lived up to our responsibility by moving two game to the 11:30 hour, but we were told we had to, period. "I could say more, but I probably shouldn't say more."

Auburn has already played two home games--against Vanderbilt and Arkansas --in the early time slot. The SEC agreement with Jefferson-Pilot says no team can be required to move more than two games. In the convoluted reasoning of the SEC office, the Vanderbilt game doesn't count because it was the only game available. If that makes any sense to you, you are brighter than I am.

The game was originally scheduled for 1 p.m., but Auburn could have played it at whatever time it chose. It could have made at least as much money from a pay-per-view broadcast as it makes from playing on Jefferson-Pilot.

CBS exercised its option to wait until Sunday to pick its game. It chose Georgia at Kentucky. ESPN chose Alabama at Tennessee. After Housel expressed Auburn's desire to turn down the TV appearance and before the CBS decision, Jefferson-Pilot changed the listing of possible games on its website to include Georgia at Kentucky and Ole Miss at Arkansas. But SEC commissioner Mike Slive put in a call to Auburn president William Walker and everything changed.

Tuberville pointed out that playing early has a negative impact beyond the game itself. Merchants say early games cost them thousands of dollars in sales. "We are all disappointed, obviously, that we are having to play another early game," Tuberville said. "It's not that we don't enjoy playing on Jefferson-Pilot. We think it's good exposure for the SEC, but sometimes you have to have feelings for your fans and the merchants and the people who support your programs. Anytime you play an early game, it takes away from them. On the other hand, it takes away enthusiasm for your fans. It keeps people from coming to the games because of travel.

"We've played two 11:30 games and a Thursday night game (at Mississippi State) basically for the SEC. We feel we've done our part. Obviously, we need to go ahead and do another one."

Tuberville said he didn't expect the early start to have any impact on his team. "It doesn't really make any difference to the players or coaches," Tuberville said. "We'd be ready at 9 in the morning or 9 at night. I have more feelings for our fans and people in our town who support this program financially. One or two early games is fine, but to play more than that puts people in a bad position."

Making the situation even more puzzling is the fact that LSU's game against Mississippi State this season was its first on Jefferson-Pilot since it lost at home to Tuberville and Ole Miss in 1997. LSU can go five years without playing an early home game and Auburn has to do it three times in one year? Does anyone really believe that, in all that time, LSU didn't play a single available home game that Jefferson-Pilot wanted?

It's too bad officials in the SEC office didn't do the right thing and it's too bad Walker didn't take a stand.

SHOWDOWN IN THE SWAMP

Saturday's 30-23 overtime loss to Florida will stick for a long time with those who suffered through it. For Tuberville, his staff and players, it was a numbing disappointment.

As Damon Duval trotted onto the field to attempt what to be the game-winning field goal, there were 111 reasons to believe he'd make it. In his career, Duval has tried 111 extra points. He's made every one of them. The field goal he had to beat the Gators was just three yards longer than an extra point. The ball was in the middle of the field.

Florida, its defense exhausted, didn't even mount much of a rush. It didn't have to. Duval's kick was a low knuckleball. It was blocked. More accurately, it was kicked into a defender. We'll never know for sure, but I don't believe it would have been good even if had not been touched.

It was a crushing emotional blow for the Tigers, who fought so hard to come back from a 23-7 deficit. Nobody was hurt more than Duval, who kicked a 41-yarder with 10 seconds left to beat Florida in Auburn last season.

It was a costly game for Auburn in more ways than in the record. The loss of tailback Carnell Williams will surely be felt in the weeks ahead. Ronnie Brown was magnificent against the Gators, gaining 163 yards, but Williams is perhaps the best back in the country. He will be sorely missed.

CAMPBELL TAKES CHARGE

Sophomore quarterback Jason Campbell led the fourth-quarter rally at Florida, just as he'd led a second-half comeback against Syracuse. Was that enough to get him the starting job over senior Daniel Cobb?

Offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino isn't saying who will start against LSU and says he might not say until game time. It may well be Campbell's turn. Coaches say he has made dramatic progress in recent weeks in terms of being comfortable with Petrino's offense.

TROUBLING TIRADES

The venom continues to spew toward Tuberville from some Auburn fans. It would be amusing if it wasn't so sad.

It's amazing how many "experts" there are out there, folks who seem to believe they know better than Tuberville and his coaches who should play, what plays should be called, what the strategy should be, etc., etc., etc.

I never question play calling in print. I never have, because I'm no expert and don't claim to be. I feel absolutely certain that plays are called and decisions are made because coaches believe they are the best at the time.

Those calling for Tuberville's job would do well to quit screaming. All they are doing is creating turmoil. Tuberville's job is not in any danger. There is no must-win game, no magic number of wins. He's not going anywhere.


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