College Basketball Nation

Memphis-Tennessee series up in the air
January 4, 2013 8:50:58 AM PST
By Andy Katz

After an odd Thursday of mixed messages, Memphis coach Josh Pastner and athletic director Tom Bowen told ESPN.com they are now on the same page when it comes to both the Tennessee series and the top priority in nonconference scheduling.

Both said the school is re-evaluating whether to continue the series with the Vols after the current contract concludes with Friday’s game in Knoxville (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). And both said the top priority for Memphis is to renew a series with Louisville once the Cardinals move to the ACC in 2014. The two old rivals, which concluded a home-and-home series this season, play in a conference game next season in the Big East when the Tigers join the conference. But the Cards then leave for the ACC the following season.

On Wednesday night, Pastner told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he wouldn’t play Tennessee ever again as long as he is coach, and that he and his AD were "on the same page with it," a statement that looked strange once it was reported Thursday that Bowen was in the process of negotiating a renewal of the series with Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart.

Pastner told ESPN.com on Thursday night from Knoxville that his initial statement was more declarative than it should have been at the time. Meanwhile, Bowen said he wasn’t going behind Pastner’s back in talking to Hart.

Bowen told ESPN.com that he has had continuous conversations with Hart about scheduling in all sports, notably football and other non-revenue sports. He said it’s important for his institution that the two in-state schools play each other in more than just men's basketball.

Bowen and Pastner say they talked multiple times Thursday night, and reiterated that they are all good and there are no issues between the two.

In separate interviews, Pastner and Bowen agreed the problem with the Memphis schedule is the instability in the Big East football membership. Yes, this is a basketball problem due to football. The Tigers were contractually obligated to a four-year home-and-home series with Boise State and San Diego State. But now that Boise State is not going to the Big East in football or the Big West in hoops and is returning to the Mountain West in all sports, there is an opening in Memphis’ schedule for 2013-14.

San Diego State might pull the same move, possibly taking the Aztecs off the Memphis schedule next season, too.

The Tigers had three series ending this season in Louisville, Tennessee and Xavier. Pastner said the plan next season for the nonconference schedule was to be in the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., while also having Boise State and San Diego State as part of an arranged deal with the Big East.

The BSU departure from the schedule frees up a spot. The spot doesn’t have to be taken by Louisville next season since that game is a conference game, meaning there could be room for a game with Tennessee after all.

Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin texted ESPN.com late Thursday and said the Vols "would like to continue the series." The rivalry certainly makes sense for Tennessee to get into the recruiting hotbed of Memphis. The rivalry also has been great for the game nationally in an era in which familiar matchups are fading with conference realignment. Who can forget the 2008 matchup that pitted No. 1 versus No. 2 in the nation?

Memphis isn’t alone in having to make these decisions of what to do with nonconference scheduling in this new era, especially with membership unknown in the Big East. Still, this is a rivalry that doesn’t have to go away -- and after a dramatic and somewhat confusing day in the city of Memphis, it now might not.

The series is being re-evaluated, and there is still a chance Memphis will agree to a renewal.

At the very least, Pastner and Bowen now are talking with one voice, instead of appearing as if they have differing agendas. That's a start.

Tags: SEC, Conference USA, Tennessee Volunteers, Josh Pastner, Memphis Tigers, Tom Bowen

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