Speaking at a Rebel Road Trip stop in Jackson on Tuesday night, Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork said that the current football series with Memphis—a four-game set that began in 2014 and will end in 2019—will be the last scheduled meetings between the two schools "in the foreseeable future."
"Once we finish in 2019—the last game [in Memphis]—the likelihood of extending on the football side will be difficult to achieve," Bjork confirmed to SEC Country.
It's natural to assume this has something to do with the events of Oct. 17, 2015. After a shocking 37-24 loss in Memphis left Ole Miss' dreams of a Playoff berth smoldering on the turf of the Liberty Bowl, a particularly #madonline segment of the Rebel fanbase reduced Bjork's inbox to a similarly charred ruin.
A brief sampling of the hot-take emails SB Nation's Open Records request was able to extract from the wreckage:
Why the Memphis series was resurrected is beyond me. I have been around this school and this football program my entire life. Never have I agreed with playing Memphis. We have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
The entire Memphis football experience is a huge mistake that should never have happened. It was an ill conceived idea, as many of us tried to convey several years ago at the private luncheon. It was, and is, a totally everything to gain and nothing whatsoever to gain mistake...
Series is a huge mistake. Recruiting and fund raising will come to a screeching halt. We expressed our concerns 3 years ago at our Thurs lunch group about this game and they are the same today.
Believe it or not, this decision has nothing to do with Bjork's gnawing remorse over ignored complaints at some damn luncheon in 2012. In fact, with the exception of 2015 and the debacle during Eli's senior season, Ole Miss has dominated Memphis: the Rebels lead the series 48-11-2 and have won six of the last seven matchups. On top of that, the rivalry connects the program to funding from the Memphis alumni base and lays inroads to fertile Bluff City recruiting grounds.
So why is the series in danger?
The new Power 5 requirement means more non-con games away from home.
In an effort to buttress its non-conference scheduling, the SEC in 2014 mandated that each of its members play at least one out-of-conference Power 5 school every year. There are two ways an SEC school can can go about scheduling such an opponent:
- It can schedule a one-off, neutral-site matchup like Ole Miss' 2016 game against Florida State in Orlando or the 2020 showdown with Baylor in Houston.
- It can schedule a home-and-home series. The Rebels' will head to Berkley to play Cal in 2017, then host the Bears in Oxford two years later.
Which means Ole Miss has less incentive to schedule a home-and-home with a team like Memphis.
If Ole Miss is already required to add extra neutral and away games to its schedule, why keep a biennial trip to Memphis on the slate? Instead, it can rack up home games against smaller schools like Wofford or Georgia Southern—schools that will agree to one-off games in Oxford and the cash that comes along with them.
That doesn't make home-and-homes with schools like Memphis impossible—you could theoretically schedule the away segment during the same season as a home game with the required Power 5 opponent—but it makes it more complicated to arrange.
"We would love to play Memphis as much as possible," Bjork said on Tuesday. "It just may not fit after this series."
This changes, of course, if Memphis joins a Power 5 conference.
The Big 12 recently announced it plans to look into adding between two and four teams. On Tuesday, an anonymous Big 12 coach told Dennis Dodd of CBS that Memphis could be one of those additions.
Memphis joining the Big 12 could be the perfect setup -- Ole Miss could fulfill the Power 5 requirement by playing an away game just an hour north in one of its biggest alumni markets.
The hoops rivalry won't necessarily be affected.
When Ole Miss announced the current football series in 2012, it also announced a four-year basketball series. Bjork didn't say whether the hoops side would be extended past the current deal, but it certainly sounds like he's open to it.
"On the basketball side, we'd love to continue to play," Bjork told SEC Country. "We think it's a great series. We should play Memphis in as many sports as possible. We love doing it. It's close to Oxford. We're close to Memphis. I think it's a win-win for everybody. But on the scheduling side for football, I think it's a little challenging."