By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
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
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 '
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).