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Tennessee football is broke: No pressure, Butch Jones

Tennessee's athletic department is massively struggling from a financial perspective after three straight losing football seasons, paying over $20 million annually in debt payments alone while attendance wanes. The Vols hope a new football coach can change things.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Tennessee athletic department has no money, and attendance is steadily declining. Get excited for your new coach, Vols fans!

Michael Smith of the Sports Business Journal broke down Tennessee's financial whereabouts, and, long story short, the situation isn't pretty: the school has the most debt of any team in the SEC with the least money to pay for it:

The Vols find themselves mired in more than $200 million of debt, the most in the SEC, with reserves of just $1.95 million, the least in the conference.

The athletic department spends a startling $21 million a year on debt payments, $13.5 million of which comes from the school's stressed $99.5 million athletic budget and the rest from donations.

Smith writes that in athletic director Dave Hart's first year, the school lost $4 million on athletics. He slashed jobs around the athletic department, raised ticket prices, and set the program up to break even, but that hit a bit of a snag in the form of football: the team lost this year -- they went 5-7, their third straight losing season -- which led to attendance declining to under 90,000 per game, the lowest it's been since 1979 and nearly 20,000 fans per game lower than what the team was attracting just ten years ago. Add in a $5 million buyout for former head coach Derek Dooley, as well as $2 million for his assistants, and football isn't helping the school as much as it should.

But even that pales in comparison to the real issue: the $21 million in annual debt payments, which has the potential to cripple the program. That's not unique -- Oregon pays $19 million a year in similar payments -- but Oregon's winning year-in, year-out, and Tennessee is just hoping to get back over .500 with Butch Jones coming in.

Tennessee fans have known about this for a while -- David Hooper of Rocky Top Talk looked to quell some of his community's disappointment over increased ticket prices in September 2008 -- but even as such, the extent to which a historically strong program is struggling is alarming.