KNOXVILLE -- The University of Tennessee athletic department's financial woes have received plenty of media attention in the past few months.
The latest attention revealed just how big a burden the department is carrying.
According to a Monday report by the Sports Business Journal, Tennessee is mired in $200 million in debt and spends $21 million each in year debt payment.
Declining attendance and ticket revenue for the Volunteers' football program, multiple payments to former coaches and administrators and disadvantageous taxes by the city and county have combined to put the department in its current precarious financial position.
"We've got to get football healthy," athletic director Dave Hart told the publication. "That's our economic engine. When that program is successful, everybody wins."
Hart has stressed the need to repair the Vols' football program from the start of his tenure in Knoxville. In his first year as athletic director, the department posted a $3.98 million deficit as its reserve fund dropped to less than $2 million. The university outlined those numbers in August.
In April of last year, the university terminated 17 positions in merging its previously separate men's and women's athletic departments, and the cost-cutting move included an elimination of other unfilled positions and a reduction in the number of student employees.
After dismissing football coach Derek Dooley after three consecutive losing seasons, Hart negotiated with chancellor Jimmy Cheek to keep $6 million per year for three years of athletic department revenue that traditionally has gone to the university.
According to the report, the reserve fund neared $30 million about five years ago before it began paying $11.4 million in buyouts to fired football, basketball and baseball coaches and the $1.335 million buyout of former athletic director Mike Hamilton. That number doesn't include the buyouts to Dooley and his staff, which could total $7 million.
Transfers back to the university worth $21 million further depleted the reserve, and a so-called "amusement tax" -- a 5-percent charge the school incurs on each ticket sold for football and men's and women's basketball games in addition to the state's 9.25 percent tax -- costs another $1.6 million per year.
"There's a perception that we're sitting on a ton of money," Bill Myers, the department's chief financial officer, said in the report, "and that's just not the case."
The additional chunk revenue from the SEC's television contracts will help Tennessee, as would improving attendance at football games. The Vols' attendance average was 89,965 for seven home games in 2012, though the actual attendance in at least two games was much lower than the announced total. In 2000, Tennessee's average attendance was 107,595, and last season was the first time Tennessee's average attendance dipped below 90,000 since 1979.
Spring schedule released
Tennessee announced the schedule for new coach Butch Jones' first spring practice.
The Vols will open practice on March 9, with Jones' pre-spring news conference scheduled for March 8. They will practice six times (March 9, 12, 14, 16, 19 and 21) before the school's spring break and eight times (April 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 16 and 18) afterward. The Orange and White game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. kickoff on April 20 at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee's pro day is scheduled for March 20.
Offensive tackle Dan Skipper switched his commitment from Tennessee to Arkansas on Monday, according to multiple reports. The 6-foot-10, 292-pound three-star prospect pledged to the Vols in June and made his official visit to Knoxville for Tennessee's game against Akron in September. Following Jones' hiring, Skipper made official trips to Michigan, Arkansas, Ohio State and Ole Miss.
With the Razorbacks, Skipper will reunite with former Tennessee offensive line coach Sam Pittman. He is the ninth prospect who at one point was publicly committed to the Vols who will sign elsewhere. Tennessee's class stands at 17 public commitments eight days from signing day.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.