The University of Tennessee is serious about getting a top-flight football coach for the Volunteers. Yesterday, Chancellor Jimmy Cheek showed his commitment to overcoming this challenge by relieving the athletic department of its pledge to contribute $18 million for academic scholarships over the next three years.
This news comes on the heels of dozens of rumors that claimed there was a rift between the academic and athletic departments at Tennessee, specifically between Cheek and athletic director Dave Hart.
In a press release, Cheek correctly stated that the money was "committed under different circumstances" and that the football program now needed to "use these dollars to attain financial stability and invest in the future."
These words are nearly as sweet a sound as "Rocky Top" to Vol fans' ears.
Under Chancellor Cheek, a goal of becoming a top-25 public research university has become a major initiative for the University of Tennessee. Obviously, athletic goals can and often do conflict with lofty academic ones, and this situation was no exception.
The athletic department has less ability than in years past to accept transfer student-athletes and to check on current student-athletes' grades. These issues have led to questions about Cheek's dedication to building a winning athletics programs.
But with yesterday's words, it's clear that we can add rebuilding the football program to the Cheek's list of priorities. Freeing up $6 million per year for three years all but eliminates finances as a major constraint for hiring a coach.
So who do the Vols go after? Check out my thoughts here.