MEMPHIS — The Ole Miss-Memphis football series will likely not be extended past 2019, Rebels athletic director Ross Bjork told SEC Country on Monday night.
Separated by roughly 70 miles, the two universities are in the midst of a four-game iteration of their rivalry, which goes back nearly a century to the schools’ first meeting on the football field in 1921.
But updated scheduling rules will probably force Ole Miss to say goodbye to its northern neighbor for a few years.
“The landscape has sort of shifted,” Bjork said before a scheduled fan event at the Memphis Botanic Garden. “Once we finish in 2019 — the last game up here — the likelihood of extending on the football side will be difficult to achieve.”
Under the current agreement, Ole Miss hosted a game in 2014 and will host another this fall. Memphis hosted last year’s game and will host again in 2019.
A relatively new ‘Power 5 requirement’ in the SEC means Ole Miss must play at least one team from the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC or Pac-12 each season. In other words, Ole Miss will be forced to play a neutral-site game annually or a road game semi-annually against a premier opponent.
That leaves little wiggle room for a home-and-away series vs. Memphis after the current contract runs out.
Some Ole Miss fans might be happy to see the rivalry die; at least until the Tigers return to the sorry state they were in when the series was contractually renewed in 2012: a 37-24 loss last year to the Tigers in Memphis effectively ended the No. 13 Rebels’ College Football Playoff hopes.
“We hit a perfect storm with Memphis and the great team that they have,” Bjork said. “But give them credit for building a great football program.”
The football series might be coming to an standstill, but that won’t affect the schools’ relationship when scheduling other sports.
“On the basketball side, we’d love to continue to play,” Bjork said. “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.
“We think we should have a great presence in the city of Memphis on a daily basis. Whether that’s games; whether that’s marketing; whether that’s branding; whether that’s donor interaction; whatever that is, we think Memphis is important.”
For those holding out hope that the Rebels and Tigers can still make it work: An extension has not yet been officially shut down.
“We’d love to continue it,” Bjork said. “It just may not fit moving forward.”