November 19, 2012
Cost of not doing business could be steep
Sunday, Tennessee football fans spent the day looking for answers. Answers to what happened the previous night in the worst loss to Vanderbilt in decades and they were looking for answers about the direction of their program that finds itself looking for another leader, their fourth head coach since Phillip Fulmer was asked to step down in 2008.
While the Vol Nation was and is looking for what's next in the coaching search, athletic director Dave Hart spent his Sunday seeking a commitment. Not a commitment from someone named Gruden, Golden or Strong, but a commitment from his school.
A commitment to playing with the big boys in the nation's most competitive football conference. The cost of doing football business in the SEC is higher than it's ever been. If you have the right coach, the investment into the game nets financial rewards like we have never seen.
However, the up-front investment is a dollar figure large enough to make some choke. And in the midst of firing his head coach, Derek Dooley, on Sunday, Hart sought answers from the University as to how much it wanted to compete. In other words, Hart and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek met at the "crossroads" that Hart spoke about Sunday in his 30-minute press conference that at times felt a bit like a telethon.
"We are not going to let that (money) be a detriment to securing the best coach we can," Hart said. "I have talked to the Chancellor at length about that. We have a 1.9 million dollar reserve which in the SEC is unheard of. We complete against people who have reserves of about 50-100 million dollars. We are in a tough position financially. The Chancellor doesn't want us to be at a competitive disadvantage of any nature whether it be financial, or academic or in any other arena where we are trying to compete and get back into the top of that pyramid. We are in a tenuous position, at a crossroads with our athletics program. But, we have people who understand that and are committed to helping us overcome those obstacles. That won't be a detriment, is it a concern? Yes it is a concern."
To make the coaching change, Hart is spending somewhere between $9-10 million for the current staff to not be retained at its maximum potential cost. To bring in a new coaching staff, the figure is likely to be somewhere between $7-10 million depending on who you hire. With $1.9 million in the savings account, Hart needs help. It's why for the last month or so he has sought that help from the University side and Sunday he drew his line in the sand and demanded it.
"We have invested heavily, the athletic department has invested heavily in the university and we should. Now the Chancellor is committed to taking some of that investment of athletic generated revenues and investing some of it back in athletics to help us stabilize financially," Hart said.
That investment to the University is high. Last academic year, the athletics department gave the University $7 million including right at $3 million to Chancellor Cheek to use at his discretion.
Hart needs some of that money back. There are other financial disadvantages. Outside of campus there is the tax issue of the 5% entertainment tax on tickets; there are state and local sales taxes. All expenses for Hart. Expenses that Florida and LSU don't have.
Then there is the scholarship issue. Last year, 82% of the student-athletes on campus were from out of state. The difference in out of state tuition versus in-state tuition in an academic year is $13,000.00. Tennessee's scholarship budget for 2012-2013 was 10.6 million. A number higher than their competitors for two reasons. One, Tennessee has more out of state athletes. Two, other schools waive out of state tuition for that athletes and treat them as in-state residents. Tennessee has approximately 360 student-athletes on scholarship which means approximately 295 are out of state students. If those 295 were charged in-state resident fees instead of out of state, the athletics department would save 3.83 million dollars.
But for Hart those expenses are a fight for a different day. Sunday, Hart wasn't seeking to eliminate expenses he was seeking a gift. A financial gift back from those who his department has been giving to heavily for years.
The veteran administrator got assurances mid-day Sunday that he would get financial help from Chancellor Cheek and the University, but Hart wasn't given a specific dollar amount in relation to his request of some $15-20 million.
The answer Hart gets is pivotal to the direction of Tennessee athletics, because it will determine what coaching candidates he calls in a search to replace Derek Dooley and what Hart can tell them about the future on Rocky Top.
"The coaches will know what goes on, they will do their homework just as we will do our homework. My pitch to them is that this is a great place, an attractive place to come and be the head football coach at the University of Tennessee and be the person responsible for providing the leadership that takes us back up the hillside.
"You have to remember, a lot of these things are historical in nature and have been going on for a while. We have simply talked about the elephant in the room and how can we make progress for eliminating anything that may be perceived by a potential candidate as a hurdle that would perhaps be tough to get over. We are going to get over all of them."
If they don't, the price of playing with the big boys in the SEC might be too expensive for the Vols.
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