U. of Tennessee Committee to Oversee Athletics

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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)


Members of a new University of Tennessee Board of Trustees committee are working to figure out what their role will be as they strive to provide oversight and accountability of the university's intercollegiate sports programs.

The new athletics committee, along with a university life committee, were created by the Tennessee legislature last year via changes to the law that outlines the structure of the board of trustees. The changes also created five new subcommittees.

"I think there were concerns that the board of trustees was not at all involved in athletics in any way and it was a way to have some accountability," said Charles Anderson, chair of the athletics committee, during a meeting of the new committee on Wednesday at the UT Institute of Agriculture.

And while direct responsibility for sports programs will remain with the chancellor of each UT campus, the committee will also provide administrative oversight and hold the chancellors accountable, according to a charter approved Wednesday.

It's been several years since the board had an athletics committee, though individual campuses in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Martin each have athletic advisory boards that report to their chancellors.

Trustees who previously helped make up the advisory boards will be removed from those boards going forward in order to avoid confusion of the roles that each will play. That change was approved by the committee Wednesday along with new bylaws for the boards.

Raja Jubran, vice chair of the board and a member of the athletics committee, said that lawmakers had "good intentions" in creating the additional committees and subcommittees, but at the same time it has created a lot of additional work for the board of trustees.

However, he said he feels it is good for the board to be able to provide oversight, particularly financial oversight, over athletics.

He also said it's important for the board to share their insight regarding some decisions made in athletics, citing the 2014 decision at UT Knoxville to remove the Lady Vols nickname.

"It's a decision that ultimately was up to the campus, but where it's something as big as that where our reputation is at risk, we'd like to have our voice heard," Jubran said.

At the same time, there are also things the committee will have to "stay away from" to respect NCAA and SEC rules and the goal is not to "interfere in the day to day" operations of athletics departments, he said.

In the past, meetings of the advisory board in Knoxville, the flagship campus, were open to the public until 2013, when officials began restricting access saying that because the advisory board is only making recommendations to the chancellor, at the time Jimmy Cheek, and not "making decisions," it is not subject to open records laws.

The new bylaws for the board do not say anything about whether their meetings are subject to open records laws.

Vice Chancellor for Communications Ryan Robinson said the decision is one that's left up to each campus and he did not know Wednesday afternoon if Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport, who took office in February, has made a decision yet on the issue.

The new athletics committee does not have the ability to call executive sessions, so the entirety of all of its meetings will be open to the public.

The committee will also have to decide what information they will review, which could include reports from the advisory boards, according to Matthew Scoggins, general counsel for the board.

Wednesday's meeting also followed the announcement Monday of a new system-wide athletics position that will be filled by former UT football coach Phillip Fulmer.

Anderson said there is a "great need" for the job and called Fulmer's appointment outstanding.

"He loves the state of Tennessee and he loves the university and I think he's going to be a wonderful ambassador for us," Anderson said.

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June 25, 2017


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