UM officials continue to work on future schedules

The Rebs lined up games with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest this summer for future seasons. Talks continue with many other schools. The 2006 schedule should be released in its entirety this month.

Georgia Tech was added for 2010 and 2011. Then Wake Forest for 2006 and 2008.

Northwestern (La.) State showed up in a recent release for future games, and there has been talk of Missouri, Texas, Tulane, and others in the future.

The names of the schools haven't really changed the past few weeks, but the efforts go on as the Ole Miss Rebels attempt to find opponents to play in football for seasons after 2005.

For the past couple of years, Executive Associate Athletic Director George Smith of the Ole Miss Loyalty Foundation has also added the duties of heading up the future football scheduling department for Ole Miss. It's a challenge and things change daily.

"What we want to do is to play quality teams that are comparable to our own program," Smith said when looking to add teams from BCS conferences that are potential TV and national draws. "We also want to have seven home games since the NCAA is going to 12 games a year."

Smith and athletic director Pete Boone have seen lots of changes in the way things unfold in scheduling over the years. The days of having a couple of no-return games, like when Louisiana-Monroe or Middle Tennessee State come to Oxford, are all but gone. The price for those games is now too high. What once was a $250,000 payout by Ole Miss to those schools for a few hours in Oxford has now turned into more than twice that and sometimes as much as $600,000 for one game.

"It became a bidding war, and those schools were simply scheduling the highest bidder." Smith said.

The NCAA helped this situation by removing the "only play a I-AA team every four years to count toward a bowl bid total" to now where teams can play a I-AA team every year and it will count toward bowl eligibility.

Ole Miss added I-AA Northwestern State, UM Coach Ed Orgeron's alma mater, for two years in 2006 and 2007. Both games will be played in Oxford. The Rebels outbid the Georgia Bulldogs for the two games with the Demons.

"Why should Northwestern State (of Louisiana) travel all the way to Georgia when they can come here?" Smith said.

He welcomes the decision by the NCAA concerning the Division I-AA games counting each season toward a team becoming bowl eligible, and here's why.

"What the decision by the NCAA did was that it stopped those what I call second-tier Division I-A teams from bidding higher and higher," Smith said, "because it put a whole lot more teams in the mix that larger Division I-A schools and programs had to choose from. You will see more large Division I-A programs playing I-AA teams in the future."

Ole Miss plays Division I-AA The Citadel for Homecoming on Oct. 8, 2005.

Smith said another area where there is movement on the scheduling front is neutral site games for big paydays. He mentioned Missouri of the Big 12 and Illinois of the Big 10 signing a four-year deal to play football against each other in St. Louis. Each team will get one million dollars per game. The Tigers and the Illini have played a non-conference men's basketball game each season in St. Louis for years, and that border war game is one of the biggest for both.

In a recent article, it appears Tennessee and Virginia Tech may play a football game at Bristol on the Tennessee-Virginia border on the infield of the NASCAR track there. It seats some 170,000 fans and each team will get millions to take home if the game is played.

"Texas and Oklahoma still play in Dallas every year, and we have talked to Texas ourselves," Smith said. "There was some neutral site talk about that, but we would really prefer to bring Texas to Oxford and us to go to Austin."

For now it appears talks with Texas are on hold.

Tulane is also a possibility and talks were ongoing until the recent tragic events there. Tulane had recently signed a 10-year deal with LSU to play football, and Ole Miss was also talking to Green Wave officials. But after this week's events in the Crescent City, those talks are also on hold.

"Pete Boone and myself and the Chancellor and Coach Orgeron are looking at what is good for the fans and good for the school," Smith said. "A lot of schools are looking at the same things we're looking into. Travel distance and cost for team and fans, things like that.

"Wake Forest is a school in the (southern) region with good academics and a football program stronger than it's been in a long time. Like Georgia Tech, it's in the ACC. Georgia Tech is a good trip for us and our fans to Atlanta, and it's a good trip for them to Oxford. You're talking about a short flight. Missouri (though not a confirmed series yet) is a game that our fans can travel to and their fans can travel here."

The longtime series with Memphis is scheduled through 2011. There have been some recent talks between the two schools about some changes in the series, like perhaps not opening the season or maybe skipping a year now and then. But nothing is firm on that yet. The Tigers and Rebels open the 2005 season in Memphis Monday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN.

Smith said talks will continue with other schools and the challenge goes on to mix and match things as they should be as far as the four non-conference football games the Rebels play each season.

"We'll always try to do the right things for Ole Miss, our teams and coaches, and our fans," Smith said. "We'll continue to try to fit all the right pieces together to accomplish what we need to in this area."

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