Middle Tennessee and the city of Nashville have been a huge priority for not just the football program but the entire University of Tennessee athletics department.
Thursday at Tennessee's recruiting celebration, head coach Butch Jones told the standing room only crowd to "save the date" as he announced that the Vols will open the 2015 season in Music City at LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans, against non-conference foe UAB.
The announcement was nearly not made as the deal was not completed until minutes before hand when Nashville Sports Council director Scott Ramsey signed the contract inside the Hilton in Nashville where the recruiting celebration was held. But the desire to bring the Vols to the state capital was a no-brainer for all parties involved.
"It's pretty simple logic," Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart said of why Nashville. "We felt strongly that we needed to be in Nashville. Scott Ramsey and I have been talking about this for over a year now to arrange a game in Nashville. Nashville is important to us. Not only from a recruiting standpoint, but from a fan standpoint. We actually didn't get it full executed till this morning. Scott was the last signature to it when I handed him the contract here today."
Tennessee will still play seven home games in Knoxville. In 2015, the Vols were scheduled to go to Connecticut for the first game of a home and home with the Huskies. That series has been suspended ensuring that a home game wasn't lost. However, Hart was quick to note that the revenue of a home game versus the revenue from a neutral site game was a push.
"It's revenue neutral," Hart explained. "We have looked at all of those numbers so it doesn't impact us from a revenue standpoint. It gives us a chance to get into an area that's very, very important to us."
Ramsey said getting Tennessee to Nashville was a no-brainer given the success it has brought them in the past.
"We have been talking to Dave (Hart) a good bit about having Tennessee here," Ramsey said. "When they played Wyoming here in 2002 it was a great success. We had a record setting stadium crowd for the bowl game against North Carolina. This is a great opportunity for us. With the momentum coach Jones has and the reinvigoration of getting into Nashville and middle Tennessee from an alumni perspective it will be a great chance for them to use Nashville as that platform."
Neutral site games are quickly becoming the norm in college football and Vice-Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart made it clear to Volquest.com last October that his plan is to play neutral site game on a regular basis.
"I've always enjoyed the neutral-site games," Hart said. "I don't think you can put a value on the exposure they create. They create tremendous exposure. People talk about it all summer long and people get excited as you get into June and past the Fourth of July and get excited about the upcoming season. When you can have your name and your logo as part of those months-long discussions, there's a big value in that. This is the first opportunity to announce in that regard," Hart said. "We intend to play in some other venues as well."
Hart's head football coach sees an advantage to playing in them for several reasons including recruiting.
"I think there are a number of things," Jones said. "First of all from a recruiting standpoint again, coming to this area is big. We have so many different players on our roster from this area. Also, I think it prepares your team for a bowl game. It prepares them to be able to go on the road and to play in a different environment. I think it's extremely healthy for your football team and your overall development of your football program."
Tennessee is scheduled to play Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016. Neutral site games are likely to happen in 2017 and 2018 with Charlotte and Atlanta as potential destinations.