Hamilton isn't upset about that, pointing to two key factors: A return trip to Tampa and the Vols coming off an SEC Championship game loss.
Also, in year when the Outback overlaps the Cotton Bowl, the SEC team is penalized $375,000. Thus, UT's payout wasn't $3.1 million, but just over $2.7 million.
Tennessee's ticket allotment was 12,000. UT sold over 8,500. Some 2,500 was donated to the Outback for use by United Way agencies. The SEC will underwrite up to 3,000 tickets in special situations, such as a team making a return trip to a bowl site. Thus, UT had to eat several hundred tickets at $65 each.
UT's direct payout from the Outback was $1.275 million. The expenses exceeded $1.3 million. UT buys six tickets for each player and also purchases tickets for the band and official party. UT also pays for charter planes, buses and travel money for players and band members.
The bill for the official party was $90,000, Hamilton said.
``We expect to lose $30,000 to $40,000,'' Hamilton said.
Hamilton said the TV exposure and playing in a New Year's Day bowl were worth the minimal deficit.
``We budget to break even, but realize there is a plus or minus of about $50,000 based on travel,'' Hamilton said.
Hamilton said it was ``great'' for Tennessee to play in the SEC title game.
``I was fortunate enough to be at the national championship game (between LSU and Ohio State) at the Superdome and that's probably the only thing in the country in college athletics that matches the intensity and fervor and excitement of our SEC Championship game,'' Hamilton said. ``I think those are the two best games in college football right now.''
Don't let the Rose Bowl folks hear that. The Big Ten and the Pac-10 are the two main stumbling blocks toward implementing a Plus-One system because they regard the Rose Bowl as more prestigious.
Like many fans, Hamilton said he gets the urge now and then to ask the coaching staff, for example, ``Why don't you throw to the tight end?''
``Sure, absolutely,'' Hamilton admitted. ``It's not uncommon for me (to ask questions). It's part of understanding the coaching philosophy and understanding the game. It's not uncommon for me to ask about different scenarios during a game. It's not always with Phillip (Fulmer). It might be with a coordinator or one of his assistants. I ask those questions, not in a critical manner, but just wanting to make sure I understand our philosophy.''
Hamilton said he never gets into debates about UT's football philosophy.
``I don't think an athletic director should be deciding whether or not a team should run a spread offense, pro style offense, the wishbone, whatever,'' Hamilton said. ``From an athletic director's chair, I shouldn't be telling a coach what kind of offense to run. I'm intrigued, obviously, by what a particular coach is doing but that's a head coach's decision.''
Meanwhile, Hamilton is enjoying the unparalleled success and attendance of the men's basketball team. The Vols are 16-1, ranked a program-high No. 3 in the nation by the Associated Press, No. 1 in the RPI and they are averaging close to 20,000 at renovated Thompson-Boling Arena.
``It's phenomenal,'' Hamilton said. ``If someone had told you five or six years ago we'd have almost 22,000 in the building on Wednesday night to watch Tennessee and Ole Miss play basketball, you probably would not have agreed with that.''
Hamilton said it's a tribute to what Pearl has done in the community and the way the student-athletes and fans have responded.
Hamilton said he's pleased with the new $3 million scoreboard.
``The folks in the 300 level not only feel the emotion of the game and see the game in front of them, but they can see the game closer in the sense they can also watch it on the scoreboard at the same time,'' Hamilton said. ``It's added color and pageantry to the arena. And I think it's also helped, if you will, close down the vastness of the building.''
Hamilton was pleased to see Tennessee picked to win the SEC, a sign of respect for a program that wallowed in mediocrity for so many years.
``To have us picked to win the conference championship is what we're about and what we're striving for in our athletic program,'' he said. ``Its gratifying to see us picked there. Now let's be hopeful we can actually perform at that level and bring home a championship for all of our fans.''