Feb. 6, 2014
By Brian Rice NASHVILLE, Tenn.
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- Volunteer fans in Nashville have a new reason to be excited for the 2015 Tennessee Football season before 2014 even kicks off.
Not that the Midstate was having any trouble with its excitement level before Thursday. A standing room-only crowd greeted Butch Jones and members of the Tennessee staff for a recruiting celebration at the Nashville Hilton. Before they heard about the newest Vols, there was an extra bit of news that invigorated the room: Tennessee will open the 2015 season in Nashville with a date against UAB at LP Field.
The Nashville Sports Council will stage the game at the home of the Tennessee Titans and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, giving the Volunteers the opportunity to play in an NFL stadium while giving the state university the chance to open its season in the state capitol.
"We felt strongly that we needed to be in Nashville," Tennessee Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart said. "Nashville is important to us, not only from a recruiting standpoint, but it's important from a fan standpoint. Evidence of that just occurred with a packed house to talk about the recruiting success that we had."
Hart said the process of creating the match-up in Nashville began more than a year ago and was completed with the signature of Scott Ramsey of the Nashville Sports Council shortly before the recruiting celebration. The game will mark the second time Tennessee has opened a season at LP Field, following a win over Wyoming to kick off the 2002 campaign.
The game is the second neutral-site game announced by Tennessee in the past year. The Volunteers will face Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in the "Battle at Bristol" in 2016 and there could be more in the future. Hart repeated comments that he made in October at the Bristol announcement, saying that UT will continue to pursue neutral-site games as the schedule allows.
Head coach Butch Jones is as excited about the announcement as the fans in attendance were. The area's growing population has been a boon to the Vols' recruiting efforts in the state, with Jones adding that Vol coaches have a weekly presence in the Midstate. Giving those players a game in their home area and giving the communities that supported their carriers rising through the middle and high school ranks a chance to support them is an added benefit.
"We're excited to be able to reward our loyal fanbase in middle Tennessee to be able to open the season," Jones said after the announcement. "Also, it's great for the players that we have on the roster from middle Tennessee to come back and play a home game."
Another advantage of the neutral-site match-up is giving players an experience away from the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium, but not one where they will enter a den filled with hostile fans. The neutral environment will also give the team a look at the atmosphere they will face in a bowl game, one of Jones' stated yearly goals.
"It prepares them to be able to go on the road and play in a different venue, a different environment, but also have it be a home game as well," Jones said. "It's extremely healthy for your football team and the overall development of your football program."
Jones said he was grateful for the leadership of Hart and UT Chancellor Dr. Jimmy Cheek to get he game in Nashville on the schedule. Hart was glad he was able to make the game happen for fans in the Midstate while still maintaining the customary schedule in Neyland Stadium for the fans and students in Knoxville.
"This will be exciting for our fans,"Hart said. "We'll still play seven games in Neyland Stadium in 2015, but this gives us an opportunity to open our season right here in Nashville."