During his speech at the UT Space Institute in Tullahoma last week, UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton said that what he loves most about his position in college athletics is the opportunity to make a difference in young people’s lives. “First and foremost, college athletics is about the student athlete,” said Hamilton. Hamilton spoke to a large group of local UT alumni, supporters and sports fans as well as UTSI Support Council members at a Support Council dinner meeting held in UTSI’s cafeteria. Also in attendance at the event were State Representatives George Fraley and Judd Matheny as well as local UT Trustee Charles Wharton. Thanking Mr. Wharton for joining them that evening, Hamilton said that he was grateful for a board of trustees that recognizes that world-class athletics and academics are not mutually exclusive. Hamilton stressed that “doing what is right academically” is one of his highest priorities for UT Athletics.
Hamilton stated that he was committed to maintaining world-class athletics for UT and, while they always search for talent in-state first, that meant going nationally to recruit. One of the ways Hamilton evaluates the success of UT Athletics is the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Director’s Cup, which measures success in a broad range of both men’s and women’s sports. Only the top 20 schools in each division are recognized, and UT Knoxville, competing in Division I, placed 7th last year, beating their previous best ranking of 8th for 2004-05.
Hamilton mentioned that local legend Jeff Hall, a native of Franklin County, is being honored this year as part of a 10th anniversary celebration of UT’s 1998 National Championship Team. A placekicker from 95-98, Hall started 50 straight games and, in 1998, was elected a captain by his teammates and helped lead UT to capture the NCAA National Championship.
During the question and answer session, Hamilton was asked about another Franklin County native, UT Football Coach Phillip Fulmer. “A lot of people are disappointed in Phil Fulmer for not winning a national football championship the past ten years,” answered Hamilton. He went on to say that he is very proud of Phil Fulmer for his record and for his character. “We should all be proud that Phil Fulmer is our football coach and we will miss him when he’s gone,” said Hamilton. Hamilton also said that he knows other athletic directors who just despise the coaches they have to work with everyday because they are hired guns. “Phil Fulmer is not a hired gun.” He then added, “We’re going to win another championship, though. I promise you that.”
Looking forward to this football season, Hamilton said the season kicks off with an away game at UCLA on Sept. 1. Tennessee is ranked 19th in ESPN’s Preseason College Football Power Rankings with the note that “most expect the Vols to finish third in the SEC East.” Hamilton said they’d be facing some tough competition playing teams like Georgia, Florida and Auburn, but “a lot depends on how and when we play those games, but I think you’ll be pleased with this fall.”
Hamilton also touched on how UT Athletics are weathering the current economic downturn. He reminded the group that all funding for athletics, including coaches’ salaries, is generated by athletics and not from state appropriations or other university revenue. “Money for athletics comes from five places,” said Hamilton, “season tickets, concessions, corporate partnerships, and conference TV revenue.” Despite the hard times, Hamilton said that season ticket sales are still robust and the revenue outlook is positive. He said that he fully anticipates selling out of men’s basketball tickets this year, and that he believes Bruce Pearl has made all the difference in that program. While coaches’ salaries are often subjected to public criticism, Hamilton noted that “Bruce, Pat, and Phil have all made significant gifts back to the University recently with both athletic and academic components.”
Hamilton said that he could not stress enough the emphasis that is being put on athletic facilities growth. “I’m always thinking 4-6 years in advance,” said Hamilton. In the case of Neyland Stadium, he was thinking 75 years in advance, as that’s how long Hamilton said the life of the facility will be extended after the $200 million renovation project now underway. Neyland Stadium is currently undergoing the second of five phases of renovations, scheduled to be complete before the opening home game on Sept. 13. Fans can expect to see widened concourse areas, additional restrooms and concession stands when they make the trip to cheer on the orange and white this fall. The renovations also include the addition of club seating and updated infrastructure for water, electric and sewer systems.
While the Neyland renovation is clearly the most expensive, facilities improvements are happening across the athletic spectrum. The Thompson-Boling Arena just underwent a $19 million overhaul to make it last another 25 years, and Pratt Pavilion, a new basketball practice facility, was added just next door. The US Olympic Trials for diving were held at the new world-class Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center from July 2-6, though the official grand opening of the new facility is being held Friday, Aug. 16 from 7-9 p.m. UT also recently opened the new Regal Soccer Stadium and Sherri Parker Lee Softball Stadium, and is set to open a new golf course next spring.
Why so much at once? Hamilton said that it had been over 25 years since they had really done anything with facilities, so he’s focusing on them now to prepare UT Athletics for the future.
Just before he left the podium, Hamilton noted that he had enjoyed his visit to UTSI, which he referred to as “a little jewel in the woods” and said “Thank you for letting me be a little part of that tonight.”
University of Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton (center front) is shown above just after speaking to members of the UTSI Support Council and local UT alumni, friends and sports fans at the UTSI cafeteria last week. Shown with Hamilton from left to right are UT Associate Athletic Director for Development Mark Ingram, UTSI Support Council Treasurer Ray Knowis, Support Council Chairman Dick Farrar and Interim UT Associate Vice President for UTSI Angie Bukley.
— UTSI Photo by Laura Horton