OXFORD – After eighth-ranked Ole Miss and Memphis compete Sunday at Liberty Bowl Stadium in the 59th renewal of a neighborhood rivalry, Ole Miss will take its footballs and go home.
And the schools will not play again for the foreseeable future.
“I like competing against Ole Miss, I like playing them and I hate to see it go away,” Memphis coach Tommy West said. “But they made that decision that we’re not going to play. Hopefully down the road … they can get it back because I think it’s a good game.”
The decision in fact has been made by Ole Miss, though the administration calls this more of a “pause” in the series than an end to it.
The schools are contractually obligated for two more games. Those dates don’t appear close to being set, even as both schools note the lack of great travel expense and the natural geographic interest.
“Those dates would be in the middle to late teens at the earliest,” said John Hartwell, the senior executive associate athletics director at Ole Miss. Among Hartwell’s many tasks is football scheduling.
Hartwell says the “pause” comes with good relations between the schools and that the decision by Ole Miss to back off is not a reaction to Memphis’ decision to do the same in basketball.
The basketball series ended when former Memphis coach John Calipari bought out a return game to Oxford. The two schools continue to play in baseball but last played basketball in December of 2006, Andy Kennedy’s first season as Ole Miss coach.
“That was not the best of circumstances, but as far as animosity, I don’t see that at all,” Hartwell said.
He said Ole Miss would be interested in discussing a resumption of the basketball series.
“Maybe they think it’s more related to that than I do,” Memphis athletics director R.C. Johnson said.
Johnson says he has a good relationship with Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone. He calls Boone a friend and says the two are prone to talk shop and bounce AD challenges off one another.
The Ole Miss position is that a break in the series, which the Rebels lead 46-10-2, is necessary to keeps its schedule fresh and changing. Hartwell cited the “monotony of playing them year in and year out.”
Ole Miss has future football contracts signed with Fresno State, Texas, Clemson and Georgia Tech. With four non-conference games to add to an eight-game SEC schedule, the school’s philosophy is to seek one BCS game, two games against non-BCS Division I opponents – like Conference USA or Mountain West Conference teams – and one lower division team.
“I’ve not had a chance to sit down and talk about with John Hartwell and Pete Boone. It seems like a good series. Maybe one day they’ll get the game back,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
This year’s schedule includes two C-USA teams – the Rebels also play UAB on Oct. 2 – and two Football Championship Subdivision teams.
“We want to look at other folks similar to Memphis that also make sense scheduling-wise,” Hartwell said.
Johnson thinks continuing the series makes good sense too.
“Michigan and Notre Dame play all the time and don’t change it up,” he said. “With four non-conference games there are enough games to change up, but one of the things I told Pete was he has to do what’s best for his program.”
Contact Parrish Alford at email@example.com or 678-1600.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal