Running scared from the Tar Heels?


The news that Tennessee plans to buy its way out of the North Carolina series in 2011 and 2012 didn't sit well with a lot of Vols fans.

More than anything, they were embarrassed. Dodging the Tar Heels in hoops would be one thing. But in football?

It's further proof of where Tennessee's program is right now, and athletic director Mike Hamilton is doing his best to make these next couple of years as manageable as they possibly can be with the Vols down in talent, depth and experience.

What Hamilton is trying to do is ensure that Tennessee gets to a bowl game next season by dropping North Carolina and adding a lesser team, reportedly Buffalo. He'd requested that the North Carolina series be moved back until later this decade, but North Carolina wasn't interested in moving.

If Tennessee fans think it's embarrassing now, how bad is it going to be if the Vols still don't make it to the postseason in 2011 and 2012 with a watered-down schedule? Here's another take on the whole thing: Maybe Tennessee had overscheduled in the first place. Hamilton said there had been discussions for a couple of years now about getting out of the North Carolina series. And, really, North Carolina is one of those games that doesn't help you a whole lot if you win it anyway.

At least, not if you're one of the SEC powers.

But, then, it would be a reach at this point to still label Tennessee an SEC power. This is a program that's lost 13 games over the past two seasons and hasn't been nationally ranked in the Associated Press poll since the opening week of the 2008 season. The last time the Vols played in a BCS bowl game was the 1999 season.

So the reality is that it's been a while since Tennessee was truly a power.

But regarding the North Carolina series, Hamilton probably did the right thing -- even though it's a P.R. nightmare. That grueling six-game stretch in 2011 wasn't going to do Derek Dooley any favors as he tries to get the program back on track, and it's silly for an SEC team to play two tougher nonconference games when it's already playing conference games that season against Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and LSU.

The Vols also get a pass because they already have high-profile series coming up against Oregon, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Ohio State later in the decade.

Even so, it sure looks weird for Tennessee to be dodging North Carolina in any fashion.