The University of Tennessee is investing unprecedented funding into its athletics department on Rocky Top, as detailed last week by FootballScoop.
Additionally, the Volunteers and new athletics director Danny White as well as new football coach Josh Heupel, neither of who has been on the job two months, are slated to potentially soon break ground on a new players' lounge-type of addition to Tennessee's Anderson Training Center. Soil tests already have been initiated to test the feasibility of the annex. Tennessee has spent or committed more than $56 million in recent months as it works to rebuild and stabilize its football program and athletics as a whole.
So it should come as no surprise that White also is targeting a revamp to Tennessee's athletics fund-raising arm, the Tennessee Fund.
Tennessee has advertised online for a trio of upper-level positions for its athletics fundraising, including the Executive Senior/Associate Athletics Director of Development.
Kurt Gulbrand has served in that capacity senior associate athletic director for development for the past three-and-a-half years. He was hired into that position in July 2017, early in the ill-fated tenure of then-UT athletics director John Currie. Sources told FootballScoop that Gulbrand is expected to shift to the general university side and begin working with Chip Bryant, UT's vice chancellor for development and alumni affairs.
Additionally, Tennessee has placed online job ads for its associate/senior athletics director/major gifts, and a similarly titled post for a position responsible for annual giving leadership. The Tennessee Fund still lists its 14 full-time employees on its Web site.
Tennessee utilizes its athletics fundraising arm to manage parking and premium seating options for football games as well as men's and women's basketball games.
With its funds, the organization notes that it helps cover the costs of more than 500 student-athletes on Rocky Top, who per Tennessee Fund records have an average annual expense of more than $115,000 for the “student-athlete experience.” The Fund notes that includes $50,000 in scholarship experiences and an estimated $30,000 in travel costs per student-athlete on average.
The Tennessee Fund has led multiple highly successful campaigns across the past decade, shattering school records with its multi-year “Campaign For Comprehensive Excellence” program. That included a single-year record of nearly $50 million in annual contributions amidst that campaign and in recent years also has seen the group pull in more than $30 million per year.
However, Tennessee also has seen donors grow highly frustrated with the athletics department's ongoing issues – from the present investigation into former coach Jeremy Pruitt's football program and alleged recruiting misdeeds to the overhaul at the top that resulted in White's arrival at UT.
Tennessee hasn't won an SEC Championship since 1998 in football and has not played for the title since 2007.
Attendance at Neyland Stadium has slumped sharply in recent years, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and two boosters who have given seven figures or more to UT athletics through the years, including annual contributions of six figures, told FootballScoop that they are taking a “wait-and-see” approach to the changes on Rocky Top.
“I'm tired of wasting my money. Tell them that,” one booster said.