You are receiving this email from me because you are someone in a position of power who, through your actions, may help to determine the fate of and future success of the University of Tennessee’s academic and athletic endeavors. I am writing this email not only on behalf of myself but also on behalf of everyone else who has the same passion that I do about my wonderful university. We demand that university leaders foster an environment where there is a commitment to success from those in power for all of the University of Tennessee’s goals—success for students in the classroom who represent the future of this state and this country, success for professors and researchers on the cutting edge of discovery, and success for UT’s athletics teams as they compete in the NCAA’s premier conference. The third item I mentioned is the impetus for this letter. I have grave concerns that some people in the university administration, especially Chancellor Cheek and Provost Martin, are standing in the way of athletic success. None of the university’s goals should be mutually exclusive from one another and all should work together in harmony. In other words, a commitment to excellence for the university’s academics should not come at an expense of a commitment to athletic success.
I am a 2006 graduate of the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with Concentration in Finance, Collateral in Accounting, and a Minor in Psychology. I graduated Magna Cum Laude and was a Chancellor’s Honors Scholar. I work in Knoxville where I already hold one of the most prestigious designations that my particular industry offers. I am also a huge fan of Tennessee athletics. My passion for Tennessee athletics led me to turn down offers to attend other schools so that I could be a University of Tennessee student. Though I buy season tickets to basketball games and attend more than half of the baseball games every year, Tennessee Football is one of my true loves in life. I have missed two home football games since I was in the first grade in 1991 and despite the lack of success, I have continued traveling to follow the football team on the road, only having missed 3 away football games during the last 5 seasons.
I concede that my donation is not one of the largest, but I have consistently donated to the VASF and/or Tennessee Fund every year since my graduation from UT. At the present time, I am reconsidering this practice. Though I will be entering my peak earning years over the next decade, I may feel compelled to cease all current and future monetary support to the University of Tennessee if it is devoid of a commitment to athletic success from those in the university’s administration including the president, chancellor, provost, athletics director, board of trustees members, etc. As I am sure you have seen from letters from other donors, I am not alone in my thinking.
I am not going to pretend to understand all of the inner-workings and complexities of the university’s different departments. My opinions of the current leadership are developed through reports I have read and information I have received from other alumni. It is my understanding that over the last decade, some of the university’s administration—most recently Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Provost Susan Martin—have put obstacles in place that prevent the University of Tennessee’s football team from adequately competing against its rivals.
In an October 18th article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Athletics Director Dave Hart was quoted. "We have some innate challenges. Each year that those disadvantages remain on the table, you set yourselves back." My plea to you is simply to correct these disadvantages immediately. Due to his previous time at The University of Alabama, it is my opinion that Dave Hart understands exactly what needs to be done to help Tennessee’s football program become relevant again. For him to be successful, everyone throughout the administration must have his goals in mind. It is painfully obvious that Tennessee needs to go a different direction with their head football coach, but to offer the job to a coach who can turn the program around, we must fix any aspect that could make the job unattractive to potential suitors.
Especially with the geographic and demographic challenges that the State of Tennessee presents to the university’s football recruiting staff, the coach must not be limited in the athletes he pursues. At other SEC schools, if a prospective student athlete clears the NCAA Clearinghouse but possesses an academic record that is not on par with other prospective students, he is admitted, no questions asked. I am not asking for every dumb jock to be let into school automatically, but if Derek Dooley’s replacement is going to be competing against other schools in this conference who take a different approach to admissions standards for athletes than UT does, he will face an uphill battle from day one if he even accepts the job offer.
Tennessee must also be able to help their current student athletes achieve success in the classroom so that they may remain eligible for NCAA competition. This demand includes a tutoring program that is unique to only student athletes. In addition, the university’s academic standards must also be in-line with other programs when it comes to eligibility for athletic participation. It is my understanding that a former Tennessee football player was ruled academically ineligible by the school for a class where he received a C-. Such a student athlete would have been eligible at every other SEC school this season, including Vanderbilt. We must not force our coaches to try to succeed in an environment where the university is holding student athletes to a higher academic standard than the programs against which it competes.
In order to put Tennessee’s Athletics Department on equal footing with all of the other SEC schools, changes must be made from a financial standpoint as well. I have read that Tennessee’s athletic department gave approximately $17 million to the university last year, both directly and indirectly. I know that each university is structured differently, but it appears that $17 million represents more than twice the amount that was given by any other SEC athletic department and that some athletic departments gave none. In the October 18th article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Dave Hart was quoted as follows: "We are carrying the largest — by far — debt service in the conference and the smallest — by far — reserve in the conference." This fact is unacceptable, and action must be taken to ensure that UT’s athletic department’s finances are brought in line with other SEC schools.
I am worried that some in the current administration do not understand that a successful football program can help be the lifeblood of the university as a whole. According to a Fortune magazine article from September 12th of this year, “In 2006, the year before Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, the athletic department brought in $67.7 million in revenue, mostly from football, and spent $60.6 million. Last year revenue was $124.5 million and expenditures were $105.1 million -- leaving a $19.4 million profit, according to figures compiled by USA Today.” It does not take much more than common sense to realize what a positive impact the commitment to winning at Alabama has brought their athletics programs, but it has also had an impact on the academic side. According to reports, since Saban’s tenure began, out-of-state applications are nearly 500% and in-state applications are up almost 200%. More competitive enrollment leads to higher academic standards for incoming freshmen and a more attractive place for businesses to look to hire recent graduates.
If you have made it this far in my email, my anger is probably obvious. I am frustrated with the lack of success on the football field, but my anger goes beyond the current coaching regime. I am worried that my alma mater has placed such an influence on academics that its athletic programs are unnecessarily suffering because of it. Championships are not guaranteed, but the powers that be at the University of Tennessee owe all donors, fans, and alumni an opportunity for championships to be pursued.
I have always considered it a blessing that I was born to parents who are both University of Tennessee Alumni. I am proud of my university and the academic training that I acquired there. I also take great pride in Tennessee’s athletic programs. Please do everything in your power to restore these programs to their former greatness. Our fans deserve better, and so does the university itself.