University of Tennessee trustees say they've recently been peppered with calls and emails from fans complaining that the school's academic administration was obstructing the football program.
Trustee Doug Horne of Knoxville said he's not sure what prompted the barrage of correspondence, but rumors of a divisive relationship between Tennessee's athletics department and its academic side simply aren't true.
Horne said trustees have discussed the issue with UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and are satisfied that everyone is on the same page, particularly in the admissions process, which was apparently a source of concern for some fans.
In a letter to Don Stansberry, the trustees vice chair, Cheek said Tennessee's admission policies for athletes are comparable to other SEC schools and there are "procedures in place that allow us flexibility in admissions."
Horne said some fans mistakenly believe that Tennessee is at a competitive disadvantage to other schools.
"We're very conscious that there are some kids that we need to get in athletically who don't have the highest scores," Horne said.
"The board of trustees and the administration are very cognizant of what Vice Chancellor Hart, Coach Dooley and Coach Martin need," Horne said. "We asked the chancellor and the provost to make sure we've got a special system to review certain cases, and we do.
"I'm not sure where all the complaints started with the radio talk show people. I think the coaches in all our sports are pleased with the way we specially review cases."
Cheek said he's committed to "comprehensive excellence" in both academics and athletics and was willing to work with Hart on financial issues. Since being hired a year ago, Hart has talked frankly about the financial shape of Tennessee's athletic department, which has the lowest reserve fund in the SEC and the highest debt service.
"The athletics department gives about $6 million a year to support academic scholarships and debt service on parking garages," Cheek said in the letter to Stansberry. "Most of these commitments were made under previous administrations. Dave Hart and I continue to examine these commitments and we will do the right thing to make sure the budget for athletics is healthy moving forward."
Horne said he believes the struggles in the football program have caused people to start pointing fingers.
"When people contact (the trustees), we make sure we check it out. We listen," Horne said. "I think it's symptomatic of the struggles in the football program. We're very sympathetic to Coach Dooley and Dave Hart to make sure they have everything they need."
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.