KNOXVILLE - From post-expansion SEC scheduling to facilities and four-year scholarships, Dave Hart covered a wide variety of topics during his appearance at the Big Orange Tipoff Club's weekly luncheon on Wednesday afternoon.
Here are some of the high points from the Tennessee's athletic director's 40-minute Q-and-A with the guests.
ON FUTURE SEC SCHEDULING
Hart said the league athletics directors have planned a meeting in Nashville the day before the SEC women's basketball tournament begins two weeks from today on February 1 to discuss future scheduling. The league added Missouri and Texas A&M in the fall and released a 2012 football schedule, but the primary agenda for the upcoming meeting is future scheduling.
"We can talk through sport-by-sport how it will be impacted and whether it will change anything and if it does, in what manner will it change our philosophy and efforts," Hart said.
The league is going to an 18-game schedule in basketball, Hart said. He also noted that nonconference scheduling in all sports will remain up to the individual schools.
MERGING OF UT'S ATHLETIC DEPARTMENTS
Hart said he's spent a large chunk of his nearly five-month time at UT meeting with staffers in the separate men's and women's athletic departments and receiving their input on the merging of the two entities, which is expected to be finalized this summer. Tennessee and Texas were the lone two programs in the country who had separate athletic programs.
"I want us to be one because that's who we are," he said. "We're the University of Tennessee Volunteers. We're all pulling for comprehensive excellence, and that's what we're working toward. We have that in many of our programs. We've achieved that. But in other programs, we still have a ways to go. We're in pursuit of comprehensive excellence.
"We're restructuring our staff, our department. We're rewriting our mission statement. We're working hard collectively. We're not doing it in a vacuum. We're working hard collectively to truly combine the programs. That's in process and will remain in process until finally we all feel good that we are now totally combined."
One point Hart hammered home on Wednesday was his focus on how he can make UT's athletic facilities better for the student-athletes. He recalled the first time he took an in-depth tour of Thompson-Boling Arena, where the recent upgrades and luxury suites weren't the only thing to catch his eye. He noted the locker rooms and how they made him feel he had "got in a time warp and went back to the mid '80s."
"Not one time in all the time I've been in this profession, has a parent or guardian said, 'Mr. Hart, can you show us the skybox?'" Hart said. "That's not even in their world. That's important to us because we value and prioritize our alumni and our donors. We wouldn't be where we were without them.
"But to those student-athletes and their parents, here's what the parents and guardians ask me every time they visit: 'Can you show me where they eat? Can you show me where they sleep? Can you show me where they get academic support toward their degree? Can you show me where they train?' These are the kinds of questions they ask. 'Can I see the locker room?' We know they're going to spend a lot of time in those areas. That's where my eyes always go first. Walk me where our student-athletes walk. We've got work to do there, in some areas."
One of those areas is not the new football training center, the $45 million project that's expected to reach completion this summer. Hart said that building "will take us to another level." As for other facility projects on the horizon, Hart said the athletic department is currently prioritizing a list of projects.
ON FOUR-YEAR SCHOLARSHIPS
The NCAA has flirted with adding legislation that would make scholarships four-year grants instead of year-by-year renewals, as they are currently.
"I think many, many times throughout the course and the history of the NCAA, related to legislation, we have knee-jerked legislation," Hart said, "and then had to come back from the back end to fix it because of unintended consequences that have creeped into the discussion. I think the way you minimize that and hopefully work toward the elimination of that, is you talk to the people with the expertise. We shouldn't force-feed legislation.
"This is my personal opinion. I think that there are a lot of issues that were not forecasted by the people who were pushing that particular legislation. Now they have backed up and said, 'Yeah, we do need more input, we do need more expertise.' That's where it stands right now. It's in a window this week that will dictate what we will do with it."
UT football coach Derek Dooley said bluntly at his signing day news conference on Feb. 1 that was against four-year scholarships, though Florida offered such grants to members of its 2012 football signing class. Hart agreed with Dooley's sentiment and borrowed Dooley's examples of how academic scholarships work.
"I never thought there was anything wrong with scholarships being granted one year at a time," he said. "If we end with four-year scholarships, then what kind of situation what might you be in with a player who's not conducting himself or herself in an appropriate fashion? There's the other side that says, 'Well let's not run off a player just because you made a recruiting mistake.' I agree with that that should not happen.
"Every scholarship on a campus -- it doesn't have to be athletics -- those scholarships can be revoked if that student doesn't meet the parameters dictated for maintaining that scholarship. That's where it becomes complex. What are the unintended consequences? Let's talk about that before we move too quickly and have to come from the back end."
ON THE FUTURE OF THE UT-MEMPHIS BASKETBALL SERIES
Memphis coach Josh Pastner made his feelings on the Vols-Tigers basketball series known to the Commercial Appeal last week. Memphis announced it would join the Big East in 2013-14. Next season's meeting in Knoxville is the last on the current contract, though the two could meet in the future as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge.
"I do know that the Tennessee series needs to be cut after next year," Pastner told the paper on Feb. 9. "Whether we're going into the Big East, Conference USA, any other league, we don't need to play that series. No disrespect to [UT coach] Cuonzo Martin, because I think he's a heck of a person and he's done a great job. This is just strictly about I believe what [former Memphis] coach [John] Calipari felt about it.
"There's no need to play it, and I've not wavered on that stance since day one I got the job."
Hart said he's discussed the situation with Martin and arrived at the same point: that UT needs to keep its presence in Memphis and throughout the state.
"Because it's public, I know Josh, he doesn't want to continue the basketball series," Hart said. "I think where Cuonzo is, and he and I have talked about this, we'll have a presence in Memphis one way or another. We'll work hard to maintain a presence in Memphis.
"We would still play in Memphis if we could, either against Memphis or perhaps against someone else. There's a lot of road to be traveled to get there. We have not had any meaningful conversations relative to that, but I think we need a presence in Memphis one way or another."
In the past, UT has said it would not play Memphis in football if the Tigers elected to end the basketball series. Hart said he'd know more about the Vols' future football scheduling following the scheduling meeting in two weeks.
"We'll be smart about scheduling," he said. "That will be a part of that upcoming meeting. Where do we go in the next 10-year window, what do we do with football scheduling, both in our conference and non-conference."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...