KNOXVILLE – The topic of finances and Tennessee athletics have been regularly linked over the past few months.
The Vols have been putting up or are improving structures on seemingly every corner of campus. The November dismissal of football coach Derek Dooley and his staff, along with the hiring of new coach Butch Jones, also put a financial drain on the athletic department. On top of all the spending, the results haven’t been there. The football team has only had one winning season since 2008.
The men’s basketball team could be headed for its second straight season without an NCAA Tournament bid.
Football attendance, after reaching an average of 107,592 per game in 2005, fell below 90,000 this past season.
Those expenses are taking a toll, according to a report from the Sports Business Journal (SBJ) published on Monday.
“It’s an ugly financial picture for one of the nation’s strongest football brands, the kind of financial hole that SEC football giants aren’t supposed to be in,” Michael Smith of the SBJ wrote.
Monday’s report found that Tennessee’s athletic department is over $200 million in debt and spends approximately $21 million a year in debt payment alone. The financial reserve, which is as much as $50-100 million at some SEC schools, has dwindled below $2 million in Knoxville.
Athletic director Dave Hart has been candid about financial issues over the past months, especially when it came to the recent coaching staff.
Hart vowed that money would not be an obstacle for him in the midst of his search that eventually led to the hiring of Jones. He secured an extra $18 million for the athletic department in late November by reaching an agreement with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek that allowed three past donations of $6 million to the academic side of the school to be “reinvested” in athletics.
“We’ve got to get football healthy,” Hart told the SBJ. “That’s our economic engine. When that program is successful, everybody wins.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for the current and future state of athletics and finances for UT’s athletic department. The SBJ reports that an additional $5-10 million per year could be coming for each SEC team with the renegotiation of its current television contracts with ESPN and CBS.
Another recent study by the UT Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) found that Tennessee athletics produced an annual economic impact of just over $150 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year. That number took into account tax revenue generated, along with factors such as jobs created and additional spending related to UT athletic events.
Spring football dates announced: Tennessee announced its schedule for spring practice on Monday.
The Orange and White Spring Game will be held at Neyland Stadium on April 20 at 2 p.m. ET. Ticket information has not been released yet.
Jones will kick spring practice off with a press conference on March 8. The Vols will then practice on March 9, 12, 14, 16, 19 and 21, in addition to April 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 16 and 18.
Pro Timing Day, an event where former Vols who are draft eligible can work out for professional scouts, will be held on March 20.
Skipper flips commitment to Arkansas: Three-star offensive tackle Dan Skipper of Arvada, Col., changed his commitment from Tennessee to Arkansas on Monday. Skipper, who is 6-10, 290 pounds, had been committed to the Vols since June, but had been looking at other options since Dooley left.
He was recruited at Arkansas by former Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and former offensive line coach Sam Pittman, both of whom hold the same position now for the Razorbacks.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga