Should UT play UNC the next two years?

Should Tennessee drop North Carolina off its football schedule in 2011 and 2012? That's the million dollar question facing Vol Nation and UT administrators. New InsideTennessee.com writer and veteran sports personality Dave Hooker tackles that question. Go "Inside" this Free read to get his thoughts on the situation.

Go ahead and rip Mike Hamilton if you'd like. Call Derek Dooley a Big Orange chicken if it makes you feel better. They were prepared for all of that when they decided to take a road trip to North Carolina off the 2011 schedule.

Still, they did it anyway, dropping UNC for lowly Buffalo. That should tell you something.

That tells you that UT's third head coach in three years has some serious concerns about UT's talent level. That should be a reality check for fans who foresee a nine-win season in the near future.

The move also tells you that UT's athletic director isn't afraid to admit he made a mistake, that a shortage of scholarship players is far more important to Hamilton than his ego.

Whether it was over-scheduling by Hamilton or the continued effect from hiring a coach that bolted west after a year on the job doesn't matter. Hamilton saw a problem and addressed it – for his fans, his football coach and his most profitable athletic program.

"I'm the one who initiated the North Carolina series," Hamilton said Tuesday. "I've been for the North Carolina series all along, but I just feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to our football program to give them a chance to succeed. Had we not lost so many football players over the last couple of years, then we wouldn't be in a position to even consider this."

But they are. The Vols will limp into the 2010 season with approximately 72 scholarships, instead of the NCAA-allotted 85.

The 2011 season won't be much better because of NCAA restrictions that limit schools to 25 scholarship players per year.

I'll be the first to say I wanted to see UT play North Carolina. It is a series that dated back to Gen. Robert Neyland and has lain dormant for far too long.

I'll also admit that North Carolina shouldn't scare much of anyone – even if they are rebuilding.

Yet Hamilton's argument makes more sense than I wish it did. It was the schedule as a whole that was daunting, not just playing the Tar Heels. Now is not the time for UT to play two games against teams from BCS conferences in 2011 (UNC and Cincinnati). Now is the time for the Vols to survive – and focus on themselves. Derek Dooley understands that better than anyone.

Two weeks of bowl practice can mean the world for UT's return to relevance. Dooley needs those practices this season, in 2011 and every season he can get them.

"That's your goal every year," Dooley said. "That's like having another spring practice. Certainly, your first objective is always to have a winning season and go to a bowl game before you even think about the SEC (championship) and the national (title) and all the other stuff."

The move to drop the Tar Heels from the schedule is a blow to UT's ego, but it also results in a $2.25 million windfall of extra cash from another home game next season. That's not chump change in this economy.

And before Hamilton is painted as the San Diego Chicken, remember he has scheduled series against Oklahoma, Nebraska and Ohio State. They're all still on the schedule and Hamilton maintains they'll stay there and that his long-term vision of scheduling tough opponents hasn't changed.

"We're trying to provide our program with a chance to where we need to go," Hamilton said. "This is one of those steps."

Said Dooley, "I put a lot of trust in Mike. He has real sound judgment when it comes to what's good for the program and what's good for the fans."

Only this time, what's best for the program and fans seem at odds.

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