It's time for 'grandfathers' to ante up

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
May 9, 2004

In 1984, I had just finished a decidedly modest career as an offensive tackle at the University of Tennessee. Literally before the stitches were removed from my last operation, an athletic department employee asked me to make a gift to my soon-to-be alma mater. Offensive linemen are generally a loyal group; like dogs, they will do almost anything if you feed them. I made the gift, and then we had lunch.

In the midst of that transaction, I also became the 'owner' of four seats in Neyland Stadium that would soon become known as 'grandfathered seats.' It didn't seem like a big deal at the time, particularly since I'd never sat in the stands to watch a UT football game.

For years, I knew I was on borrowed time. I had better seats that a friend of mine who'd given UT more than $100,000. I was paying well below market price. I enjoyed the ride as long as it lasted. I was neither surprised nor outraged when informed that I would have to increase my donation to keep two of the seats.

Not all of my fellow 'grandfathers' in Section U share my feelings.

The problem is that Tennessee's athletic department ' specifically the football program ' is both a business and a service institution. People alternately think of it as such, depending on what suits their purpose on a particular issue. When discussing wins and losses, UT football is clearly a business. Fans are only concerned with the bottom line. But when it comes to money, many supporters are quick (and quite correct) to point out that the football program is only a subset of a state-sponsored learning and research institution; service and loyalty should be valued over the almighty dollar.

Here lies the conflict: neither the university as a whole nor the athletic department are businesses. But both are businesses.

The athletic department suffers from the same schizophrenia as do the fans. They are happy to appeal to your sense of loyalty at times, while defining other issues simply as a matter of dollars. I don't say that to criticize anyone. It is simple reality.

Some people would describe UT's decision to limit grandfathered tickets in moral terms, deriding UT for reneging on past assurances about stadium seating. It is immoral to break a promise.

But maintaining the status quo is also immoral.

It is immoral to renege on assurances to players who expect to play and train in first class facilities. It is immoral to require certain season ticket holders to subsidize a handful of others. If you purchase season tickets that aren't grandfathered, you're paying a higher price for those tickets because a handful of people don't pay market price.

The athletic department is in the position of having to choose between two choices, each of which is unsavory, unpleasant and ' in the mind of some ' immoral.

They made the best choice.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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