Vanderbilt canceled its 2013 and 2014 football games against Northwestern on Thursday, leaving a four-team nonconference slate for '13 and a few questions about the future of SEC scheduling down the road.
The Commodores were scheduled to carry on a budding tradition that had pitted the Big Ten and the SEC's academic stalwarts against each other in 2010 and 2012. The two had a home-and-home series that was to take place in September of the next two years. Instead, the 'Dores will be forced to turn elsewhere to fill out their non-conference slate.
That won't be an issue in 2013. Vandy had an overstuffed dance card for non-SEC matchups next season. The 'Dores were already scheduled to travel to Massachusetts and Ohio State while hosting Austin Peay and Wake Forest. Things won't be as cut-and-dry in 2014. The cancellation leaves the Commodores with only two scheduled out-of-conference opponents that year; Wake and UMass. It's expected that the team will also fill one of their open scheduling slots with a FCS team, since that's been a standard practice both at Vanderbilt and in the SEC in recent years.
The cancellation may be tied to a bigger shift in the conference. The SEC recently added Missouri and Texas A&M to its ranks, effectively eliminating one crossover game between SEC East and SEC West opponents. Could Vanderbilt dropping Northwestern be the first sign of a nine-game conference schedule that restores the third east-west game for the league?
That's all speculation, but as of Thursday, Vanderbilt has dropped a home-and-home series that stretched into 2014 instead of canceling one-off matchups with Austin Peay and
Ohio State [UPDATE: Ohio State has also been removed from the 2013 schedule. The Buckeyes have been replaced by Alabama-Birmingham, according to the Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge]. Are the Commodores signaling the first shift in a new conference policy? Or is this just a case of James Franklin removing a tough opponent from their schedule in order to build a better bowl-game resume?
Vice Chancellor David Williams said that the new makeup of the league necessitated the changes. However, he didn't get into specifics on the matter.
"The new schedule has meant that we needed to reshape our non-conference schedule since there are now league conflicts with several of our prior 2013 arrangements," said Williams.
Either way, the Commodores are down to two agreed upon out-of-conference opponents in 2014. Once they find an appropriate FCS matchup, that will make three. After that, the affiliation of the last team to fill the last open spot on their schedule is up in the air.