By Steve Williams
Have you heard the latest marketing promo for University of Tennessee football? Behind the iron gates and statue of the General lies “the hallowed grounds” of Neyland Stadium.
The message is well done and might help get you in the mood for the upcoming season. But after UT’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that it would not be hosting the annual high school jamboree in August, I wonder if a “Keep off the Grass” sign has been put out in front of the stadium.
This is the first public relations fumble of the Butch Jones era. Call it a “dooley.”
Definition of dooley: Doing something, for no apparent good reason, that upsets a lot of people.
It’s not a real word. It’s not in Webster’s and you won’t get anything by googling it. But most Vol fans already know what it means. It originated when former UT Coach Derek Dooley adversely affected relations with many former Tennessee players by requiring them to make a reservation instead of just showing up to support the program and current team.
Give Butch credit for correcting that dooley and others since he’s been here, which makes the recent announcement to not open the gates to Shields-Watkins Field for the high school kickoff event even more surprising.
“We place great priority on having the field at Neyland Stadium in the best possible condition when the Tennessee football season begins, which we believe is in the best interests of our football program,” announced Tennessee senior associate athletic director Jimmy Stanton. “As such, we will not be hosting the Jamboree or any other on-field events in August at the stadium moving forward.”
The jamboree has been held at Neyland Stadium many, many times before and I have never heard of it causing a problem to the field. Never.
I thought playing football on a football field was natural. It should not be an issue.
Last year’s jamboree consisted of 11 “quarters” and took about five hours. With all the breaks between “games” to get in the action, actual playing time didn’t take much longer than a regular college game played on the field. And there’s usually more than two weeks of recovery time between the jamboree and UT home opener.
There were probably around a thousand players on the 22 teams who experienced the thrill of playing in Neyland Stadium last summer. A once in a lifetime memory.
Even high school coaches and referees have been fortunate enough to get that unique view inside Neyland.
“We greatly value our relationships with all of our local high schools, and we understand the unique experience of playing in Neyland Stadium,” Stanton added. “We will have discussions regarding the potential of hosting the Jamboree in the Spring moving forward, as we are certainly open to this event taking place in the weeks after the Orange and White game each year.”
Such an alternative date is ridiculous. The jamboree is a preseason event, a “dress rehearsal” for the start of the prep season which usually begins the following week.
In May of 2009, prior to the brief Lane Kiffin era at UT, I wrote a column showing how, with a rotation system, high school players from not only Knox County but from all counties within close driving range would be able to play in a preseason jamboree at Neyland Stadium at least once in their prep careers.
That figured out to about 2,700 players in the East Tennessee area getting to block and tackle or maybe even score a touchdown in Neyland Stadium over a 3-year period.
My research at that time also pointed out the fact that only 1 out of every 17 high school seniors who play football go on to play on the NCAA Division 1 level, or in a stadium like Neyland.
I doubt Kiffin ever read that column.
I think I’ll send Butch a copy of it. Maybe he’ll fix this dooley, and let the high school players on the “hallowed grounds.”