- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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In recent years, Memphis coach Josh Pastner has been clear on the subject of scheduling local nonconference rivalries, particularly Tennessee: He doesn't want to do it. Just last summer -- exactly a year ago to the day, in fact -- Pastner answered a Knoxville, Tenn.,-area radio question about the Memphis-Tennessee rivalry with this:
“I have no desire to play Tennessee,” Pastner told hosts Josh Ward and Will West on WNML-AM 990. “I don’t think it does us any good. I’m just being honest with you. For us, it’s a game that, I don’t know why we play it, but we play it because the athletic director wants me to play it and he’s my boss and what he says goes.”
I'm not a huge fan of this argument, because I like to think that if fans want to see a game, a coach should at least consider that as a factor in his scheduling philosophy. But at the time Pastner also said he fully supported his athletic director, R.C. Johnson, and that if Johnson "tells me to do something, I totally believe in chain of command. He’s the boss." If Johnson told Pastner to "go play Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi State and anyone else, I would do it, because he’s the boss.”
Which is what makes this week's Ole Miss scheduling release so funny. On Wednesday, Ole Miss announced a joint football and basketball series with Memphis, with the headline "Ole Miss, Memphis Renewing Rivalry in Football, Men's Hoops." CBS's Gary Parrish figured he get Josh on the horn quickly, and he did, and when he asked him if the renewal of the basketball rivalry was the real deal, guess what Pastner said?
"Absolutely not," Pastner said.
Gary follows up:
According to Ole Miss, the Rebels and Tigers have agreed to renew a series in both football and basketball. According to Memphis, the Rebels and Tigers have agreed to renew a series in football (in 2014) but have committed to only "talk about" a basketball series, and Pastner would rather those talks never lead to anything more.
Why doesn't Pastner want to play Ole Miss? Or Tennessee, for that matter? Because both schools would love greater access to the high-flying Memphis recruiting scene. Pastner wants to ensure that no one has access to said scene before him. He doesn't want to offer those schools any opportunities to play in front of local crowds, to tell players they can still play in the FedEx Forum without signing with Memphis, to reassure mothers their kids will be back in town for a game at least once a year. Pastner wants Memphis to be the only destination for elite Memphis players. He's already awful close; tactics like this are among the reasons why.
Anyway, if the Ole Miss series does eventually get worked out, it would likely replace the Tennessee series, which ends after the 2012-13 season. Pastner may not be thrilled about the idea, and I'm not sure how many people are clamoring for Ole Miss-Memphis, but the schools' crossed wires have already provided ample entertainment.