One of the great off-season debates for Tennessee fans could be: Which school year was worse for sports, 2010-11 or 2011-12?
It's a close call if you use the top five sports as a measuring stick. But there's a noteworthy difference: Fans can now say "Wait till next year" with more conviction.
They probably didn't say it at all last June when there was no compelling evidence that the next school year would be wondrously different. In fact, it would be worse.
Nothing that occurred on the field or court in the 2010-2011 school year was as significant as the firing of Bruce Pearl, who had revitalized a mediocre basketball program into an NCAA tournament regular and revived an apathetic fan base as well.
But Pearl's dismissal was neither as tragic nor as traumatic for fans as this year's departure of legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who was forced to relinquish her position due to early onset dementia.
In each case, UT suffered a terrible loss. The two school years also produced remarkably similar results.
The football teams both lost seven games.
The men's basketball teams both won 19.
The women's basketball team made the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament each season.
The 2011 baseball team was 7-23 in the SEC; this year's team was 8-22.
Only the softball team improved its status. It won three more games (from 49 to 52) and reached the Women's College World Series this season.
Next season could be better. You could say that about other sports programs as well.
Football — It's typical of fans to raise their expectations the closer they get to a new season. But there's hard evidence to support such optimism in UT football.
After back-to-back seven-loss seasons, the Vols return 20 starters. And third-year coach Derek Dooley has bolstered his depth chart through recruiting.
Eight victories seem realistic, and you could make a case for nine.
Men's basketball — Like football, it should be much improved. In a transitional season from Pearl to first-year coach Cuonzo Martin, the Vols managed to win 19 games and 10 in SEC regular-season play.
They lost only one starter and will return their top four scorers. Based on the Vols' talent and experience, Florida coach Billy Donovan says they could be the team to beat in the SEC.
Women's basketball — The Lady Vols have lost more than Summitt. Also gone are five players,
three of whom were taken in the WNBA draft.
But there's still potential for continued success with a nucleus of promising players like Meighan Simmons, Taber Spani, Ariel Massengale, Kamiko Williams and Cierra Burdick. Also, UT will have the advantage of playing the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament on its home floor.
Softball — Almost immediately after the Lady Vols lost in the Women's College World Series, co-head coach Ralph Weekly vowed the team would be better in 2013.
You didn't have to look further than his starting lineup to understand his confidence. The Lady Vols will return eight of 10 starters in addition to their pitching staff. They also will add six freshmen, most notably pitcher Erin Gabriel.
Baseball — As bad as UT was in 2012, improvement should be a given, even in a conference as competitive as the SEC. Coach Dave Serrano's coaching track record elsewhere also bodes well for a program that hasn't qualified for the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala., since 2007.
Serrano plans to bring in 23 new players and is setting his sights high.
In a letter to fans, he wrote: "My ultimate dream is the day when we can all celebrate the return of the program to its rightful spot among the nation's elite."
Next season, UT fans would settle for a trip to Hoover.