KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Tennessee wants to eliminate a trip to North Carolina from its 2011 football schedule, even if it means paying a $750,000 buyout of a contract with the Tar Heels.
The two schools have a contract to play in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2011 and in Knoxville in 2012, but Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton requested several months ago that the series be pushed back to future seasons.
Tennessee's tentative 2011 schedule has the Vols hosting Cincinnati before trips to Florida and North Carolina, home games against Georgia and LSU and a trip to Alabama.
“Going into the season having two BCS non-conference opponents is problematic when you're trying to rebuild a team,” Hamilton said. “This is not a change in our scheduling philosophy, however.”
Hamilton said he's been told by North Carolina officials that the Tar Heels won't be able to delay the series to future seasons, which led to talks of a buyout of the contract. North Carolina senior associate athletic director Larry Gallo said the final outcome hasn't been decided, though, and the Tar Heels would prefer to play the series.
“The discussion obviously involves whether we're going to play, whether we're going to reschedule or whether we're going to not play at all,” Gallo said. “We understand their reasons and so forth, however we have not come to any decision yet. I'm hopeful that will happen in the next few days.”
Tennessee is in rebuilding mode after two seasons of coaching turnovers which prompted a number of players to leave the program. The Vols currently have 76 scholarship players, and coach Derek Dooley likely will need a few seasons to build the roster back to the maximum 85 scholarship positions allowed by the NCAA.
Dooley said the decision was Hamilton's.
“He doesn't do anything without at least getting my thoughts on it,” he said. “He has a real good understanding of what's important to the fans and to the program, and I have a lot of trust in how he's managing the schedule. Obviously if I was in big disagreement with what he wanted to do I would express that.”
Hamilton said the cost of the buyout would be made up by scheduling an eighth home game next season against Buffalo on the Vols' Oct. 1 open date. Sept. 24, the date scheduled for the Tennessee-North Carolina matchup, would become their new open date.
Tennessee has already rescheduled one 2011 game after North Texas decided to open its season at home in its new stadium instead of on the road at Neyland Stadium. The Vols scheduled Montana in its place.
Hamilton also turned down a chance for Tennessee to face Southern California and former coach Lane Kiffin in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game because of concerns about the Vols' already difficult schedule.