I passed on the opportunity to pay $50 and watch Tennessee's football scrimmage Saturday. The timing just wasn't right.
In more affluent times - back in the late 1980s, for example - I wouldn't have given it a second thought. Neither would have our accounting department, which didn't raise so much as an admonishing pencil when a Seattle hotel charged me $16 for a jar of peanuts from my in-room food bar.
Ah, yes, the good old days when a conscientious administrative-type might have responded to my $27 lunch and $45 dinner by wondering, "Why didn't you have breakfast? We don't want you to get undernourished on the road."
Frugality now takes precedent over sustenance. I won't open the food bar, much less a jar of hotel peanuts.
I'm also leery of anything that isn't in the budget, even if it's something as compelling as a spring football scrimmage for only $50, which might help feed the family of one of UT's 37 assistant athletic directors. I do appreciate the unprecedented gesture, especially since the previous scrimmages this spring had been closed to the media.
Last week, some media members were informed by UT's sports information office that for $50 they could sign up for the weekend coaching clinic and attend the scrimmage along with numerous high school coaches, some of whom might have been curious as to how their college counterparts could scheme their way to a single first down given all of UT's offensive attrition.
The paid scrimmage raises an obvious question: How much would you pay to watch this team? Or better yet: How much would you invest in this team?
You can't judge a team's worth by the media, which is accustomed to watching for free. Fans pay for everything - seats, parking and concessions - with no assurances as to the quality of performance they will get in return.
A woman with four season tickets asked Friday if I thought fans would be selling their tickets in anticipation of a difficult 2010 season. She was looking to upgrade to better seats.
I also wonder how many fans will choose to sit out a season in which a new coaching staff and an inexperienced team could be hard-pressed to win six games. My best guess: Not as many as there would be almost anywhere else.
Sure, you have seen patches of empty seats in Neyland Stadium on various Saturdays in recent years. And Alabama fans took over the place in the fourth quarter of a one-sided game in 2008 and might do so again this fall.
But UT fans repeatedly have confirmed their loyalty with 90,000-plus crowds. That's not lost on all the players.
Senior quarterback Nick Stephens, who quit UT's football team Thursday, provided a testament to Vols fans in an interview with colleague Dave Hooker.
"It's almost to the point that it's almost surprising how supportive they are because of the bad times we've had and the success that we haven't given to them," he said. "I want to thank them for everything they've done."
Stephens is right. UT fans should be commended for their support.
This is no longer anything close to a top-10 program. The Vols haven't won an SEC championship in 12 years and have lost six or more games in three of the last five seasons. While their fans are paying more for less, they keep paying. And they keep showing up at Neyland Stadium in surprisingly high numbers.
I don't expect that to change significantly this fall. I believe fans will rally around new coach Derek Dooley and a depleted, young team that will be picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC East.
They will have their first chance to show that support next Saturday at the spring game. The price of admission is only $5.
The media will get in free.
John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.