sports (2007-42)

Switching Channels


Have the Vols become college footballâ’s TV under-card?

by Tony Basilo

While the madness of a sneakily terrific football Saturday was unfolding, the Vols were slopping their way over Mississippi State in the game that no carrier wanted and very few would want to see. Of Tennesseeâ’s seven football games to date, three have been on Pay-Per-View. If the Vols get to the SEC Championship Game in December, it seems theyâ’re going to have to sneak up on the entire country.

At first, the networksâ’ (CBS, Jefferson Pilot, ESPN, et al.) decision to pass on Tennessee-Mississippi State seemed like a slap in the face to the Vols. ESPN2 chose Georgia versus Vanderbilt just four days before Tennessee and Georgia met in Knoxville. It seemed the network believed Georgia was going to beat the Vols in Knoxville. But while Tennessee was hammering the Dogs, Auburn was pounding Vanderbilt. Still, the choice was Vanderbilt and Georgia over Tennessee and Mississippi State. This meant the Vols were banished to a rare non-televised game. That was until the fine folks from UT and the Vol Network smelled money and cobbled together a last-minute telecast.

I ripped ESPN for choosing Vandy and Georgia and I was wrong. The Dogs and â’Dores served up a 20-17 thriller that went in UGAâ’s favor on a field goal with time expiring. Vandy blew a 10-point lead and did their obligatory choke job down the stretch with a fumble on Georgiaâ’s 7-yard line inside the gameâ’s final five minutes. The Dogs recovered, made a couple of big plays and escaped with a win while ESPN2 did the right thing. This was twice the game that Tennesseeâ’s uninspiring yawn-fest win over Mississippi State was. So was Auburn-Arkansas (ESPN Night), Alabama-Ole Miss (Lincoln Financial). All televised games (even South Carolina vs. North Carolina) were better fare than Tennessee-Mississippi State. Facts are facts.

The depths to which the Vols have faded from the big networksâ’ consciousness was pounded home while watching Kentucky and LSU on CBS. During the game, lead SEC play-by-play guy Vern Lundquist kept teasing the upcoming weekâ’s game as either Florida versus Kentucky or Tennessee versus Alabama. Iâ’m wondering to myself while watching this, when was the last time Kentucky played two consecutive nationally televised games on over-the-air television? Kentucky? Can you believe it? The Cats went out and took it to LSU, earning the signature spot and another nationally televised home date with Florida. The Cats have a serious pulse in the national eye.

And for the Vols, itâ’s undercard city. Or a date with Alabama and Dave (â“Oh, boyâ”) Neal and Lincoln Financialâ’s feeble package. Tennessee and Alabama on regional television? This is the third Saturday in October. The pageantry of the Bear and Majors. The magical autumn match-up. So Tennessee-Alabama is reduced to regional television for the first time since â’88. Hey, it beats pay-Per-view. Even thatâ’s better than Tennesseeâ’s November 3 game with Louisiana-Lafayette that wonâ’t be seen anywhere, including pay-per-view. Quick trivia question: When is the last time Tennessee played a non-televised game, including pay-per-view? 1994, Mississippi State.

The good news is that Tennessee will have a chance to play their way back into the networksâ’ good graces with a closing stretch that includes South Carolina, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

Who wouldnâ’t want to see Phillip Fulmer attempt to derail Steve Spurrier from living the impossible dream of an SEC East title in Columbia? CBS didnâ’t. They chose also-ran Georgia versus Florida. Do you think Tennesseeâ’s defense matching up against Darren McFadden and Felix Jones would draw viewers to the tube for Tennessee and Arkansas? Tennesseeâ’s November 24 game in Lexington has potential classic written all over it. In case you havenâ’t noticed, the Wildcats are scratching out a special season.

Because when it comes to the networks, the Vols arenâ’t getting the votes anymore.


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