Congratulations University of Tennessee as you are now officially a basketball school and no longer a football school. The men’s basketball program was climbed to the top of the sport’s rankings with impressive wins over foes while frequent top-tier programs like Duke suffered a loss thus making UT’s ascent possible. Am I being mocking by saying this? Not really and maybe.
Big Orange Country as long as I have been alive has had an over-inflated and undeserving opinion of their football program. To be honest with you it’s been a basketball school for decades – on the women’s side thanks to pioneering ladies basketball coach Pat Summitt.
When people talk sports in college there is a tier program. Football is universally the most popular sports often followed by basketball and everything else. ACC schools like Duke and North Carolina for example are known as basketball schools because of the success of the program and it is what put the national spotlight on the school. Sure, they may have some pro prospects in their football programs for example and have strong teams that rank but those said teams are not consistent like traditional football schools like Alabama, Oklahoma and USC.
In the hierarchy of finances a successful football program is a windfall for a college and by and large basketball not so much. Football boosters tend to support the teams financially and otherwise at a greater clip than any other sport hands down.
Contrary to what Vols fans think, their football program has always been a second-tier SEC program. They’re good, sometimes very good but rarely if ever great. And despite their romantic notion of historic conference rivalries with Alabama, Florida and LSU, they don’t measure up to these three programs. They’re not even close. I’m sure Vol fans are livid after that last statement. Get over yourself. Tennessee is competitive with every team they play but are nowhere close to being an elite program. There are legendary games in the books with Alabama, Auburn, Georgia – you name it that they truly dominated, however never on a consistent basis. They’ve always had unrealistic expectations for their football teams that make them frankly unlikable. With an obnoxious fan base that is never completely happy to an attitude towards other team (often a superiority complex) I often find myself cheering against the program.
As a kid who was a transplant from New York to the South I never understood the behavior of Volunteer football fans and boosters. My first indoctrination into it was as a little boy when I read that after one too many Liberty Bowl appearances by the team, coach Bill Battle had moving trucks show up at his residence. I didn’t understand this as a seven-year-old and still don’t to this day. My father always taught me fight hard and when you’re done brush yourself off, shake hands, go home and accept the results. My family’s football roots are deeper than most, but my father’s ethos was play your best game and if you don’t win this week go out the next and get ‘em. Not in the state of Tennessee, however.
In Tennessee football is go, unfortunately more than God itself, which is a problem. Football is a game – plain and simple. A win or loss will not alter history or the rotation of the earth. If you think it does you are a sad individual and should take serious evaluation with your life.
If you look at the history of the Volunteer football program while it’s had stretches of good records it lacks enough quality wins. They also lack in National Championship titles and skill players in the NFL.
To be the great football team that UT’s hardcore fan base is they’ve only won two National Championships in their history. Even Georgia Tech a traditional basketball school has as many championships. Schools like Alabama, LSU and Auburn have at least of two National Championships since Tennessee’s last title in 1998. When it comes to NFL talent there aren’t many household names except Peyton Manning, Eric Berry and maybe Alvin Kamara right now.
Whenever a UT fan wants to talk about their team Peyton Manning’s name always comes up especially if they’re losing the conversation or game. They want to remind you Peyton went there as if it’s the bane of their existence.
By comparison Alabama has two receivers that set NFL records this past season on the same NFL roster. Both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley accomplished that this season. Alabama as well as Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU have had many linemen – both offense and defense drafted on a regular basis, however UT not so much.
And while I know anyone in Vol Nation that is still reading this and not burned it or thrown it in the trash are livid. Being a basketball school is fine. I actually have respect for you now. It may not be as financially rewarding or ego-boosting like football, but I’ve actually can say the women’s program gave me a more positive impression of the school than the football program. I’ve actually been to as many of their games as I have the football team and I’m a football guy through and through. Under Pat Summitt a class organization was built second to none. Unfortunately, I don’t think Holly Warlick will be able to sustain its legacy as it’s eroded every season since Summitt’s departure.
As for the men’s basketball team I was always a fan except the early ‘80s under Don DeVoe. They were arrogant for no reason and refused to play UTC. If you remember, during the Murray Arnold era at UTC of the early ‘80s the men’s basketball team was ranked top 15 in the country and with a new arena, “The Roundhouse” (now McKenzie Arena). I’m guessing they were literally scared. Even Michael Jordan and North Carolina mustered enough courage to come to The Roundhouse and barely escaped with a victory.
But my respect outside of the DeVoe era is honest. I really enjoyed the Bruce Pearl era that brought personality and winning to the program. I still chuckle over the time he showed up at a Lady Vols game painted Orange to cheer the team to victory. And you knew Summitt appreciated it immediately because she showed up not long after to one of men’s game dressed in an old-school cheerleading outfit complete with pom-poms. Those two gestures were not only examples of mutual respect, but what college sports is supposed be – fun. Unfortunately Pearl was fired based on his misconduct of lying to the NCAA in the ongoing investigation tarnishing the program for many years, something they almost never recovered.
Rick Barnes has added not only stability to a program that was greatly in need of it. Not only that he has built a top-tier program that is at the top – both literally and figuratively. Take pride in this actually unlike the football program that was never as great as you believed. Your long-term success in men’s organized sports is with basketball and not football. Go Vols!
– David N. Marks
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