In the current state of college football, non-conference games between Power Five programs are scheduled several years in advance. It is commonplace now for teams to announce the scheduling of games over ten years ahead of time. The athletes who will eventually compete in those games are currently in elementary school.
That is why it was so surprising when Virginia and Tennessee, two Power Five programs that have not faced each other since 1991, announced that they would be playing one another to open the 2023 college football season at Nissan Stadium in Nashville a little under 16 months from now.
This will be Virginia's first regular season game against an SEC opponent since 2003 and the first time the Cavaliers have returned to Nissan Stadium since beating Minnesota in the 2005 Music City Bowl.
So how is it that an ACC team and an SEC team, who usually have their non-conference schedules solidified several years in advance, managed to get a game on the schedule for the 2023 college football season? The answer is BYU.
In September of 2021, BYU accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference beginning in the 2023-2024 season. The Cougars, who are currently independent, have begun the process of canceling games in future football seasons to make room for the nine-game Big 12 conference schedule.
BYU and Virginia, who played each other in Provo in the 2021 season, were scheduled to play each other in Charlottesville in 2023 and then again in Provo in 2025. Shortly following the conclusion of the 2021 regular season, Virginia and BYU agreed to a mutual cancellation of those two remaining games, which means that neither team owes the other financial compensation for the cancellation of the game.
That left one open date in the 2023 non-conference schedule for Virginia, who is also set to play William & Mary, James Madison, and Maryland in 2023. One thing to note: Virginia was originally scheduled to play William & Mary on September 2nd, 2023, but that date has been taken by the UVA-Tennessee game in Nashville, so the Virginia-William & Mary game will have to be rescheduled.
BYU was also scheduled to host Tennessee in Provo to kickoff the 2023 football season as the second part of a home-and-home series between the two programs. That was not one of the games that the Cougars were looking to cancel, as it was scheduled for very early in the season and therefore did not interfere with the Big 12 schedule.
However, the Volunteers decided that they would rather cancel that game in favor of a different non-conference matchup played much closer to home, scheduling the "neutral-site" game against Virginia in Nashville.
“Pivoting to play a marquee non-conference opponent in Nashville made sense for multiple reasons,” Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Danny White said. “This is a more accessible game for our fanbase. I expect that we will have a much larger contingent of fans in Nashville than would have been able to travel to Utah. Our fans also have heard me talk about the importance of finding new revenue to grow our operating budget, and playing Virginia at Nissan Stadium is an opportunity for a net-positive revenue game. I appreciate Virginia AD Carla Williams and the Nashville Sports Council for working with us to make this attractive matchup happen.”
Since it was Tennessee canceling the game with BYU as opposed to the two teams agreeing on a mutual cancellation (as was the case with the Virginia-BYU games), the Volunteers owe BYU a $2 million payout. The contract stipulates that the first $2 million in ticket sales for the Virginia-Tennessee game will go to BYU for the buyout.
Obviously, the Volunteers will expect considerably more of their fans to show up for a game against Virginia in Nashville than one in Provo, Utah against BYU and it is likely that the revenue generated from this game will vastly offset the losses of canceling the BYU game.
So there you have it: Virginia and Tennessee will meet in Nashville to kickoff the 2023 college football season and BYU was the key to the whole process. The outcome is that Tony Elliott will have an opportunity to test his program against an SEC team in the first game of his second season leading the Cavaliers.
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