I also understand that the more money Tennessee makes from the networks, the less money it has to squeeze out of its season ticket-holders. Even with a recent $2.71 price hike for each '08 home game, the Big Orange ranks fifth among the 12 SEC teams in ticket prices. I'm for just about anything that keeps the game reasonably affordable for the common fan.
I also understand that being involved in the only Sept. 1 football telecast is a huge marketing plus. As athletics director Mike Hamilton noted in his recent letter to season ticket-holders: "This is an incredible opportunity to showcase our program and our university on the national stage."
From a financial standpoint, shifting the UCLA game is a brilliant move. From an exposure standpoint, it is a brilliant move. From a won-lost standpoint, it may be a mistake.
With a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback and a new offensive system, I believe Tennessee needs to get off to a good start in 2008. The odds of accomplishing this would've been a lot better opening the '08 season with a home game vs. Alabama-Birmingham (the original plan) rather than with a road game vs. UCLA.
I'm not suggesting that UAB is a guaranteed win or that UCLA is a guaranteed loss. I've covered college football long enough to know that NOTHING is guaranteed. Here are just a few examples:
- I saw Tennessee lose 21-14 to a visiting North Texas State team in 1975.
- I watched Tennessee's 1990 offense score at will in a 45-3 drubbing of Steve Spurrier's ninth-ranked Florida Gators, then manage just two field goals seven days later in a 9-6 home-field loss to an unranked Alabama team.
- I saw a 1993 Vol team that averaged a school-record 40 points per game manage just one touchdown in a 31-13 Citrus Bowl loss to Penn State.
- I saw a 1998 Big Orange team that went 13-0 and won the national championship trail Mississippi State 14-10 with eight minutes remaining.
- I saw a 22-game winning streak against Vanderbilt end with a 28-24 setback at Neyland Stadium in 2005.
Given all of the above, I'm acutely aware that opening at home vs. UAB does not ensure a 1-0 start in 2008 and that opening on the road at UCLA does ensure a 0-1 start.
Consider this, though: Phillip Fulmer is 14-2 in season openers with both losses – 25-23 to UCLA in 1994 and 45-31 to Cal in 2007 – occurring in West Coast road games. The '94 loss led to a 1-3 start, the '07 loss to a 1-2 start.
If Tennessee beats UCLA, switching the 2008 opener to accommodate ESPN could prove to be a season-maker. If the Vols lose another Left Coast opener, however, the switch could prove to be a season-breaker.