Why neutral sites take backseat in scheduling
DESTIN, Fla. – Some of Phillip Fulmer’s top memories as a Tennessee football coach include non-conference games against some of college football’s most recognizable programs.
They were played as part of homeand- home series.
“I enjoyed as a coach playing the UCLAs, the Notre Dames, Boston College, Southern Cal,” Fulmer, the Vols’ athletic director, said Thursday at the SEC spring meetings during an exclusive interview with the News Sentinel.
“I think it does wonders for your recruiting. Now, it’s better when you
win all those games, or most of them. I like those home-and-home series, particularly for us, because we recruit in so many places.”
Tennessee has several home-andhome dates on its future schedules.
The Vols will host BYU this season before traveling to Provo, Utah, in 2023. They’ll travel to Oklahoma in 2020 before hosting the Sooners in 2024. Tennessee will host Pittsburgh in 2021 and travel there in 2022. And UT will play at Nebraska in 2026 before hosting the Huskers the following season.
What’s missing from Tennessee’s schedule are neutral site games.
For the first time since 2014, the Vols will not play a neutral site regular-season game in 2019. There’s also no neutral site game on the 2020 schedule.
The Vols have three of their nonconference opponents scheduled for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, and those games do not include a neutral site contest.
In fact, there’s no neutral site game on the schedule for any future season, although there are still holes to fill beginning
Tennessee remains interested in neutral site opportunities, Fulmer said, especially if they’re played in an important recruiting area. But they take a backseat to compelling home-andhome opportunities.
“We’re not going to close the door to it at all,” Fulmer said. “We had conversations (Wednesday) with people. We are a good brand, and we want to stay at the forefront of those games, but not just play one to play one. I don’t want to take a home game away from Knoxville if I can help it. To me, that’s the priority.”
The Vols opened last season by playing West Virginia at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
By favoring home-and-home series over neutral site, it creates the possibility for an eight-game home slate, like the Vols have this season.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt shares Fulmer’s philosophy on neutral site games compared to home-and-home opportunities.
“There’s nothing like playing home and home, being on a college campus,” Pruitt said. “I think it’s good for the Knoxville community when we play at home, and I think it builds a lot of character when you go to one of these rival schools on the road to play. As far as the neutral site games, you definitely don’t mind doing it if it helps you in recruiting.”
Neutral site non-conference games started becoming popular more than 10 years ago, but Tennessee isn’t alone in moving the pendulum back in favor of home-and-home series.
Alabama is moving in that direction. It has such future dates scheduled with Texas, West Virginia, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.
Georgia has home-and-home dates scheduled with Oklahoma, UCLA, Florida State, Texas and Clemson. The Bulldogs annually play Georgia Tech in a home-and-home format, too. They do play Florida annually at a neutral site in Jacksonville.
Oklahoma also is part of the movement toward marquee home-andhome matchups. When the Sooners host Alabama in 2032 — before making the return trip the following season — it will mark the first on-campus matchup between the programs since 2003.