From the window in Dave Hart’s corner office, the University of Tennessee athletic director can see Neyland Stadium above all else, a fortress along the Tennessee River that instantly identifies the Volunteers as a member of college football’s elite.
Its enormity is a testament to the sport’s incredible growth during the past two decades and the power of the Tennessee brand. It also effectively conceals an athletic department that built enormous debt while trying to maintain its place among the richest and most powerful football programs in the Southeastern Conference.
Now, after staggering to losing football seasons in four of the last five years and seeing attendance drop to levels last seen in the 1970s, the Vols find themselves mired in more than $200 million of debt, the most in the SEC, with reserves of just $1.95 million, the least in the conference.
Brief chronicles of our sporting times.