Tennessee will play at Alabama this Saturday, and the Crimson Tide will visit the Volunteers in 2024.
There are no guarantees that the Vols will venture to Tuscaloosa two years from now.
The Southeastern Conference implemented an eight-game bridge schedule within the league for next football season, when Oklahoma and Texas join to form a 16-member collection. The SEC has yet to announce whether it will move forward with an eight-game format featuring one permanent opponent and seven rotating foes or a nine-game model with three annual opponents and six teams that would rotate.
In either scenario, every conference team would play every other team two times over a four-year period, but Alabama coach Nick Saban strongly hinted last Thursday night on his radio show that the SEC already had reached its decision.
"The way we're going to do our seven-team rotation, one-team fixed is that you're going to play everybody every four years," Saban said, "so almost every guy at your school is going to get to play every team in the conference, which I think is great."
Saban is the second league coach to insinuate that the SEC will adopt the eight-game format, with Auburn's Hugh Freeze discussing the topic earlier this month in Birmingham before backtracking on his comments since an official decision has not been made.
Should the eight-game format be implemented, the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry would be staged twice every four years, or just as often as Alabama-Missouri or Tennessee-Texas. The Auburn-Georgia, Alabama-LSU and LSU-Ole Miss rivalries would be held twice every four years as well.
Alabama and Tennessee have been playing annually since 1928, which predates the creation of the SEC by five years, and the Crimson Tide and Volunteers have combined for 42 league titles.
"I just think that this is happening all over college football," Saban said Wednesday on the SEC teleconference. "You're going to have these great rivalry games that players and fans and everyone in programs look forward to that are not going to be able to exist on a year-to-year basis.
"I think there are a lot of people who are disappointed in a lot of those things."
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].