Last week, Volquest.com reported that the University of Tennessee was buying out a scheduled series with the University of North Carolina in football which was set to begin in 2011. This was later confirmed by AD Mike Hamilton and head coach Derek Dooley.
Since news of the buyout broke, members of the sports media, as well as South Carolina head coach and Tennessee native Steve Spurrier, have been quick with the one liners related to Tennessee’s buyout. Even my friend and fellow Bleacher Report writer Joel Barker called for Mike Hamilton’s job last week.
The reality is that the job of an athletic director is to make difficult decisions in the best interest of the student athletes and the business that is the athletic department. By buying out the contract at a reported $750,000 Hamilton has already made his money back by replacing it with a home series that typically rakes in three million dollars.
That’s good business.
Yes, the Vols will take a slight hit in public perception as perpetuated by the ever-antagonizing Spurrier. The question is will the pain and embarrassment of buying out the contract be worse for business than the pain of losing up to seven straight games in one season?
With the Tar Heels on the schedule, the Vols would play Cincinnati, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina consecutively. Unless Derek Dooley turns water into wine this season Tennessee will likely be the underdog in all but one of those games with the Bearcats being a toss up.
On the other hand, with winnable games against Cincinnati and Buffalo on a new schedule, Tennessee can get to a bowl game by beating traditional underdogs Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Vol fans don’t like hearing that the quality of a season depends on wins against an evenly matched UK, but that is the reality in 2011. Every game counts.
Give the Vols that bowl game, the extra month of practice that comes with it, and the recruiting advantage of having made it to a bowl game despite significant impairments and Tennessee has a much brighter future going into 2012 and 2013 even though the schedule does not get any easier.
By then, Dooley’s recruiting and coaching will have had time to pay off. If not, Dooley and Hamilton will be looking for new work and the conversation about North Carolina won't matter anyway.
Hamilton’s decision wasn’t popular and it won’t put fans in the seats, but the AD knows that it will be more popular and productive than a four or five win season in 2011 or the hiring of yet another coach and athletic director after missing a bowl for consecutive years.
Mike Hamilton's job is to do what’s best for the student athletes and for the business of the athletic department. In this instance, though it wasn't a popular decision, he was right.
(Johnny Lewis writes about the SEC and Tennessee Volunteers for Sportshaze and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @kyvolunteer or read his articles at kentuckyvols.com)