The SEC is expected to announce its conference-only schedule this week, and Tennessee athletic director Phillip Fulmer is keeping a close eye on the final verdict.
In an exclusive interview with SportsTalk, WNML radio last Friday, Fulmer was asked if he thought each team playing its next two crossover opponents as a good approach.
Tennessee’s next two rotating West foes in 2021 and 2022 are Ole Miss and LSU.
“I think it makes some sense to do that,’’ Fulmer said. “That was discussed. Many, many models will be looked at over the next week or so.
“The message the commissioner sent was to be fair and equitable. What does that look like? How do you get there? Strength of schedule will play some role in it. I think it will probably play more of a role than the rotation might.”
Fulmer said the decision by the SEC to go with conference games only was more about flexibility in scheduling rather that having perhaps difference pandemic protocols than other leagues.
Fulmer did say tongue-in-cheek that he would like for Alabama to play seven games in a row before it plays Tennessee.
Fulmer was asked if he thought it made sense to play your first six games against a division foe and the last four against a crossover opponent.
“That may be something I can bring up to the commissioner,’’ Fulmer said. “Nobody has talked about that. You really don’t know what the virus is going to do. We could have to play a makeup game before the SEC Championship game. I think the flexibility that they’re talking through is what they’re seeking. We’re all seeking.
“I do know we won’t play anyone twice. That was brought up. I do know it’s not just about the rotation. We’re going to be really working to balance where they are early or late home games and all this kind of thing.’’
Fulmer touched on a variety of topics:
Capacity at Neyland Stadium
For the first time, Fulmer said without a doubt “there will be reductions’’ to the capacity at Neyland Stadium.
“I don’t want to put a number out there right now,’’ Fulmer said. “We’re working on several models.’’
Among the models are reducing the 102,455-seat capacity by 50 to 20 percent. (It’s worth noting that seating capacity is actually about 99,000. The higher number comes adding ushers, media, security and UT personnel working the game.)
“We would love to have it 100 (percent),’’ Fulmer said. “But the reality of it, that’s what we all have to face. The economy has been damaged, people’s jobs and everything. …
“We won’t be 100 percent. I’m hopeful we might be 50 (percent) or be like most folks and looking at 20 percent or 25 percent.”
What About Tailgaiting?
“We’ve talked a lot about that,’’ Fulmer said. “We have to get everybody all on the same page with that. The tailgating, the Vol Walk, the band. We’ve had tons of conversations about it. I would like to sit here and say yeah, we’ve figured it out. But again it gets back to the safety factor of the people that want to come to the games, enjoy the game. We have to be smart about what we do.”
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said his department could lose $60-to-$70 million in revenues even if conference games are played and up to $100 million if the season is canceled.
“(It) seems like a very high number,” Fulmer said. “It is a high number. We are working through all of that as to what it might look like. There are certainly sacrifices and things that we are doing with the budget. That’s everywhere we can, to make it the least impactful as we possibly can.
“If you’re playing at this level, that number is a real number.”
Are Staff Paycuts Possible?
Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes makes about $4.7 million a year. Football coach Jeremy Pruitt makes about $3.85 million.
Fulmer makes $1 million annually.
Many schools across the country – two in the SEC – have reduced pay for personnel.
Is that possible at Tennessee?
“We’re looking at everything we can look at,” Fulmer said. “It’s certainly something we’re considering as we move forward. I think anybody that looks at the day-to-day budget, when things change and get a little harder, you have to look at everything … we certainly have discussed everything that might help us.
“Some of that, you know, you don’t rush to judgement. You don’t make a decision too soon. But you don’t want to make it too late either.”
What About Other Schools Eliminating Programs?
“That’s been hard for everybody across the country,’’ Fulmer said. “Football is such a big revenue source for almost anybody at any level.’’
Stanford has dropped 11 of its 36 sports.
“From Stanford’s position, they probably had too many sports to begin with, to support,’’ Fulmer said. “Not to say those aren’t important to those athletes and coaches. …
“I don’t think we’ll be cutting any sports or anything like that, at all. That hasn’t been brought up one bit. But everybody is paying attention to finances. I can assure you we’ll have to do that through this year and years to come.”