Vol fans deserve a break

A lot of folks are upset that a 10-2 and seventh-ranked Tennessee football team appears headed to the Peach Bowl. Some of these folks are blaming this disappointing development on what they perceive to be the Vols' dwindling fan support.

Am I missing something?

Granted, there were 12,000 or so empty seats at the home finale against Vanderbilt. But there were still 95,000 people in the stands. That would've been an OVERFLOW crowd at every college stadium in America except for Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee and Ohio State.

And there are reports that bowl executives are concerned because UT hasn't sold out its alotment of tickets to recent postseason games. This is easily explained when you look at the Vols' recent bowl history:

1999: Tennessee makes a second consecutive trip to the Fiesta Bowl. The previous trip was to watch UT play for the national title, so this one is clearly anti-climactic. In addition, Tempe is a long journey.

2000: Tennessee is a so-so football team (8-4) matched against an unappealing Cotton Bowl opponent (Kansas State) in a cold-weather climate (Dallas). The journey is long and the weather is miserable, making travel to the game site hazardous. Would you ignore traveler's advisories to sit in a frigid stadium and watch Kansas State?

2001: Coming off perhaps the most disappointing setback in program history -- an upset loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game that blew a Rose Bowl bid -- Tennessee signs to face Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Still mourning the loss to LSU, Vol fans stay away in droves. Who could blame them?

2002: An injury-plagued Tennessee team plays ugly football all season, posts a mediocre (8-4) record and is paired against a lackluster opponent (Maryland) from a basketball conference (ACC). Who'd want to watch that?

I'll concede that Tennessee fans, somewhat spoiled by the 1998 national title, do not follow the team as zealously as they did six years ago. I'll concede that UT has lost some of its national pop due to 8-4 regular seasons in 2000 and 2002. I'll concede that a team with a marquee player (Eli Manning of Ole Miss, for instance) might be more attractive to bowl brass than a team like Tennessee.

Still, Tennessee still has enough fan support, enough national pop and enough star-quality players to warrant a more prestigious bid than the Peach Bowl.

Bottom line: Blame a flawed bowl system, not Tennessee's fans.

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