I am not a sports expert, just an average Vol fan and an avid fan of college football. But there are a few things I don’t understand about the state of our university’s football operation.
Did the Bruce Pearl hire wreck the Vol football program?
Can you beat a $5 million coach with a $2 million coach?
Is it a coincidence that the Southeastern Conference university that spends the most on football operations takes in the most revenue on football operations?
At the end of this football season there are those who think Alabama’s Nick Saban is worth more than his $4.8 million package, plus a bonus. And there are those who think University of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is vastly overpaid with his $2.3 million. A former Vol player says Dooley is worth a minus $4 million for the revenue lost this season by his team’s dismal performance.
As to the Pearl reference, it has nothing to do with Pearl. Athletics Director Mike Hamilton went out and found a no-name coach for the university basketball team. He hit a home run. Pearl brought big-time basketball to the campus and filled the cavernous Thompson-Boling Arena. When it came time to get a football coach, Hamilton again went to the bargain bin. First, a coach under a cloud recently fired from the Oakland Raiders after a losing season, followed by a coach from Louisiana Tech.
Under what conceivable scenario do Vol fans think that Dooley can ever compete with Saban, Les Miles at LSU, or Bobby Petrino at Arkansas? Or Will Muschamp at Florida or even Mark Richt at Georgia? Alabama has more than recovered the money advanced to Saban, who inherited a no-talent team and had a losing season. Went 10-2 the next year. Won a national championship the third year.
LSU pays Miles $3.8 million. Arkansas pays Petrino $3.6 million. Do they get their money’s worth? Paying Dooley $4 million or $5 million is not the point. The point is that if you contend with Saban and Miles and Petrino, you have to pay enough to get a coach in their league.
Alabama spends $31 million on football operations. LSU $25.5 million. Arkansas $22 million. Do you recall that time in the season when the national top 10 had Alabama, LSU and Arkansas as 1, 2 and 3? Coincidence?
UT spends $17 million on football operations.
So Alabama spends $31 million—is a national championship worth that kind of money? Well, Alabama has football revenue of $71.8 million; the highest in the SEC. UT has football revenues of $56.5 million, number seven in the league. Another season like this one, care to predict what UT football revenues will be next year? If Alabama wins a national championship they can raise ticket prices and still fill the 101,821 seat stadium. If UT doesn’t do some ticket deals, will they be able to fill Neyland Stadium next year?
Alabama makes a profit of $40.7 million on football. UT makes a profit of $39 million. So UT is making almost as much profit as Alabama at present—unless fans start staying home in droves. But which football fans are having the most fun?
This isn’t about personalities, grudges, or fairness. It is just football by the numbers. Vol fans should decide to go out and spend the money to get a coach who can contend in the SEC or just quit bitching about being a third-rate team that barely beats Vandy and loses to Kentucky.
Right now Tennessee is Vandy, Kentucky, and Old Miss. They are in the lowest tier of the Southeastern Conference. Vandy without the academics. Vandy—the team going to a bowl.
Dave Hart is new as UT’s athletic director and may not want to make waves. He might not think UT can afford to spend that kind of money. But can they afford not to?
(The numbers in this column are from the excellent USA Today database of college sports statistics reported to the federal government under a Title IX requirement.)