By Mark Nagi
Back in 2019, Tennessee hosted BYU. The visitors from Utah brought thousands of fans to Knoxville and by many accounts, they had a positive presence at Neyland Stadium. Cougar supporters were loud and supportive of their team and talked glowingly of their experience in Knoxville.
This was a home and home series, with Tennessee scheduled to make the trip to the BYU campus in Provo in September 2023.
Well, that was the plan.
Last week the University of Tennessee announced that they had canceled the back half of the home and home, and instead would play Virginia… at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
“Pivoting to play a marquee non-conference opponent in Nashville made sense for multiple reasons,” Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics Danny White said. “This is a more accessible game for our fanbase. I expect that we will have a much larger contingent of fans in Nashville than would have been able to travel to Utah. Our fans also have heard me talk about the importance of finding new revenue to grow our operating budget and playing Virginia at Nissan Stadium is an opportunity for a net-positive revenue game. I appreciate Virginia AD Carla Williams and the Nashville Sports Council for working with us to make this attractive matchup happen.”
“We are thrilled to welcome the Vols and Cavaliers to Nashville on opening weekend of the 2023 college football season,” Nashville Sports Council President and CEO Scott Ramsey said. “Both programs have a place in Nashville Sports history, having both played in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl. We look forward to hosting them along with their loyal fanbases and once again showcasing Nashville on a national stage.”
That all sounds fine and good… but all I keep thinking is why on earth does Tennessee continue to buyout games?
In 2010 Tennessee bought out a home and home series against North Carolina. This was at the start of the Derek Dooley era, and athletics director Mike Hamilton wanted relief on the schedule. The Tar Heels weren’t exactly the 2001 Miami Hurricanes. It was an awful look for UT, giving the world of college football the perception that they were running scared.
And how could you argue against it?
Last year they paid Army $500,000 to cancel their scheduled meeting during the 2023 season. That’s a game that honestly never should have been scheduled in the first place. They are an awful opponent to gameplan for, and without a return trip to Michie Stadium at West Point (one of college football’s hidden gems), what’s the point of playing that game?
But buying out the BYU game is the worst decision of them all.
$2 million of the Tennessee/Virginia ticket revenue will go the BYU. Let’s step away from the financial ramifications though, because Tennessee will certainly make more money having a game in Nashville than if the game was in Utah. If this was all about money, it’s a no-brainer.
And yes, it can’t hurt recruiting to play a game in the mid-state.
But what this decision did is remove an opportunity for Vols fans to travel to a beautiful part of the country. Yes, Provo is a long way from Knoxville, but we all know that Tennessee fans would make the trip.
And what about Tennessee fans on the west coast? This would have been a chance for them to see their team play and not have to travel 2000 miles.
The home and home series are one of the things that makes college football special, and more and more often those games are being replaced by boring, neutral site affairs.
Remember a few years back when Notre Dame and Georgia played a home and home series? Those games were must-see TV from South Bend and Athens.
Now imagine that those games were played at the Cincinnati Bengals stadium instead.
Not really the same, is it.
I’ll admit that some of this is just me venting. I was planning on going to the game at BYU. And I will not attend the Virginia game next year, which will likely be played on a Saturday afternoon. In early September in Nashville, that game will be played on what feels like the surface of the sun.
But Tennessee is trying to build its brand back up. And it’s a shame that they think the best way to do that is to stay closer to home.