Fans cheer for the athletes, media cover the events and post scores and standings, but athletic directors compete, too.
Tennessee men's and women's athletic directors Mike Hamilton and Joan Cronan concluded the 2008-09 sports season was not up to par overall for the Vols and Lady Vols.
Fans suggested it throughout the year, beginning with the football team's 5-7 season, through the unexpected early exits of the basketball programs and into the spring when the softball team fell short of the Women's College World Series.
The final Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings, which take into account how teams fare in the 32-sponsored sports recognized by the NCAA, were the final indicator.
Tennessee finished 23rd in the nation, it's second-worst finish in the 16-year history of the award and its lowest finish since 27th in 2002-03.
"Obviously, our goal is always to be in the top 10,'' Cronan said. "Finishing 23rd in not where we anticipate finishing.''
"I'm certainly not pleased right now, but I'm encouraged about the future. There's not anyone in the country that's had more improvement than Tennessee over the years. I think we'll be OK.''
Joan Cronan, UT women's athletic director
Hamilton, who had not seen the UT program finish worse than 14th since he took over in May of 2003, agreed.
"We don't want to diminish what we did; we had a lot of success by our student-athletes,'' Hamilton said. "But it wasn't the kind of year we want to have as it relates to the final Directors' Cup standings.
"My goal is to be a consistent top 10, and that's difficult because we don't field as many sports as some of those schools.''
Stanford, which has won the Directors' Cup the past 15 years (North Carolina won it in its first year of existence) leads all schools with 30 sports.
Tennessee features 20 scholarship sports, nine men's, 11 women's.
Of the teams that finished in the top 10 of this year's standings, eight have more than 20 sports. Texas (sixth) and LSU (ninth) have 20.
Likewise for Georgia, which also finished ahead of UT in 18th.
"Everyone in this part of the country considers the SEC to be the most competitive conference from an all-sports perspective,'' said Claude Felton, Georgia's associate athletic director for sports communications.
"There's hardly a sport we have in the SEC that one of our schools wouldn't have a chance to win the national title,'' he said. "We are at a bit of a disadvantage in the number of sports we sponsor school by school. The schools in the SEC are about quality.''
And it has been quite a race among the SEC schools, and not just in recruiting the finest athletes.
Cronan and Hamilton said one of the keys to Tennessee's athletic success has been its commitment to state-of-the-art facilities.
The Vols and Lady Vols have added new softball and soccer stadiums in addition to a new aquatic center over the past three years.
A golf center is under construction, and baseball is in the middle of a multi-phase renovation that will cost at least $15 million.
"The fans have seen what we're doing to Neyland Stadium,'' Hamilton said, referring to the ongoing $200 million renovation. "Then there's Pratt (Pavilion) and Thompson-Boling (Arena).''
UT has sunk $38 million into the basketball projects, with a current renovation phase consisting of building a pedestrian bridge from the G10 Lot to the concourse level and a new elevator on the northwest corner of the arena.
Hamilton said he believes volleyball's move from Stokely Center - which did not have air-conditioning - to Thompson-Boling Arena will help that sport as well.
"We've also got renovations of over $1 million going at Tom Black Track,'' Hamilton said. "You'll see some fairly extensive work. We're resurfacing our track, and the facility will become brick over the next year and we're finishing the entrances.''
UT is hosting the 2010 outdoor track and field championships and has bid on the nationals.
Tennessee has a master plan for tennis that's future construction funding-related.
"We've always prided ourselves on having quality coaches and great facilities,'' Hamilton said. "You go around and compare yourself to other top programs in the country, and everyone else is moving forward with facilities.
"You do it to keep pace or you fall behind, and it's been a big part of the equation to our success.''
While Hamilton and Cronan know it's difficult to compete in the Directors' Cup with the likes of Stanford, Michigan (27 sports), California (27), North Carolina (25) or Virginia (25), they expect to keep pace with schools offering about the same number of sports.
Southern Cal and Florida, both top-five finishers in this year's Directors' Cup, offer 21 sports. Texas (6) offers the same 20 sports as Tennessee as well.
"I'm certainly not pleased right now, but I'm encouraged about the future,'' Cronan said. "There's not anyone in the country that's had more improvement than Tennessee over the years. I think we'll be OK.''