Of Friday, for what feels like the 50th time over the course of the last couple of years, we will see a fun rivalry come to an end as Memphis will play Tennessee for the last time in the foreseeable future (read: Josh Pastner’s tenure).
Only this rivalry is different than Kansas-Missouri or Texas-Texas A&M, Syracuse-Georgetown or Pitt-West Virginia.
Those died (or at least become non-conference games) because of conference realignment. Memphis-Tennessee is dying … because the Tigers got a new Athletic Director.
Ever since he took over the Tiger program, Pastner has been adamant about the fact that he does not want to play Tennessee every season. His reasoning is simple: he doesn’t want to give the Vols a chance to play in Memphis, something that could potentially be used as a recruiting tool for an in-state rival looking to poach some of the city’s best hoopers. The old Memphis AD wanted the Vols on the schedule. The new one doesn’t care, which is why Pastner is now being allowed to end the series.
Now, I’m not really one to quibble with Josh Pastner when it comes to recruiting. He’s been able to land just about every player he’s wanted from the city of Memphis — with the exception of Jarnell Stokes — and has yet another loaded class on the way next year. Maybe he knows what he’s doing on that front.
Um, is there a rule somewhere that the Tigers can only play one interesting home-and-home series a season?
You might think so, looking at this year’s schedule, on which Louisville is the only interesting home game. But that’s not actually an NCAA requirement. Teams are allowed to play multiple games that get the juices flowing.
Few games get the juices flowing like Memphis vs. Tennessee. Indeed, now that Rick Pitino has emerged as the biggest Memphis booster this side of Kevin Kane, Tennessee may actually be more hated than Louisville.
The Tigers have one of the most passionate fan bases in the country, but thanks to weak non-conference scheduling and a terrible Conference USA, those fans will see one meaningful home game this season. And, if the collapse of the Big East continues with UConn and Cincinnati departing for greener pastures when they become available, things won’t be all that much in the Tiger’s future.
Pastner can run his program however he wants to.
But that doesn’t mean he gets a pass for ending a fun rivalry game.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.