By Jimmy Hyams
In recent years, you could count on two things involving Tennessee football: neutral site regular-season games and the start of the season NOT on Saturday.
For the third time in four years, Tennessee will open on a non-traditional college day when the Vols play Georgia Tech on Monday, Sept. 4 in the Mercedes-Benz Dome.
Last year, UT opened at home against Appalachian State on a Thursday night.
In 2014, Tennessee opened on a Sunday against Utah State.
Neutral site games have also been popular.
In 2012, Tennessee opened against North Carolina State in the Georgia Dome.
In 2015, the opener was on the Titans home field in Nashville against Bowling Green.
In 2016, Tennessee played Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway before the largest crowd to ever witness a college football game.
Next season, UT plays West Virginia in Charlotte.
Former UT athletic director Dave Hart liked the neutral site games for two reasons: It helped recruiting and it stuck to the city of Knoxville for imposing a 4.5% amusement tax.
Tennessee home games usually generate over $4 million on Saturday with a local economic impact of more than $10 million.
Will new athletic director John Currie continue that practice?
“The first priority is always going to be our fans in Neyland Stadium and the impact Tennessee football has on Knoxville, greater Knoxville and the Tennessee community,’’ Currie said.
“But we’re fortunate in this conference (SEC) because we only play eight conference games. We’re able to massage things to where we have seven home games every year at Neyland Stadium. With that said, there are examples of good opportunities to do neutral site (games).’’
Currie said he hasn’t talked to Vols coach Butch Jones “extensively’’ about neutral site games, but Currie thinks there can be recruiting and brand benefits to playing at a neutral site.
“We have alums all over the country,’’ Currie said. “There are a lot of good reasons to consider playing elsewhere. Ultimately, we want to do what we believe collectively is in the best interest of our football program having the best possible chance to win a championship.’’
Currie said he understands the history of the amusement tax, but added, “that’s not the top issue on my radar screen.’’
Currie said he is amused when he hears people refer to college athletics as big business.
“College athletics is not a big business,’’ Currie said. “College athletics is an enterprise with some business principals.’’
Currie said former UT athletic director Doug Dickey used to say if college athletics were a 7-11 convenience store, “they’d shut down a lot of them because they were not profitable.’’
Currie added: “We’ve got to be careful about that (neutral site games). Ultimately, the decisions we make about Tennessee need to be made with the best interest of the student-athletes in mind.
“Statistically, you have a better chance of winning when you play at home. That is a statistical fact.
“We do want to put all our student-athletes in all sports in the best possible chance to win. And one of the reasons we win when we play at home in all of our sports is because we have incredible fans with incredible passion, and that is one of the ways to promote the University of Tennessee athletically and academically.’’