Phillip Fulmer requested 15% pay cut as part of Tennessee's budget reduction in athletics

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

Phillip Fulmer requested a 15% pay cut as Tennessee athletics braces for the effect of COVID-19 on the athletic department's finances.

The Tennessee athletic director informed UT season-ticket holders in an email Wednesday of his decision, which has not yet taken effect as part of cost-cutting measures.

“The request is not expected to encounter any hurdles," UT spokesperson Tom Satkowiak told Knox News.

As of Wednesday, Tennessee has not announced pay cuts for any other coaches or administrators in the athletic department, but Satkowiak indicated that broader cost-cutting measures are being discussed.

Fulmer signed a four-year deal worth more than $1 million annually in April 2018. His contract, which has a base salary of $300,000, supplemental pay of $600,000 and a year retention bonus of $100,000, runs through Dec. 31, 2021. He receives $40,000 annually in compensation for expenses.

Fulmer stated Tennessee cut the 2020-21 operating budget by 20% in all departments as part of what he called a "painful process."

How much revenue Tennessee expects to lose

Fulmer updated UT season-ticket holders Wednesday after he announced Tuesday that Neyland Stadium would be limited to 25% capacity this season due to the pandemic. He loosely outlined UT's financial picture and asked fans to consider spinning their season-ticket purchases into donations.

Fulmer wrote that the way the COVID-19 pandemic has affected UT "makes me sick to my stomach."

Fulmer said he expects Tennessee to lose $30 million to $40 million if the Vols do play football this season with limited attendance.

"If we do not play at all, those losses could double," Fulmer wrote in the email.

Tennessee athletics generated $143.8 million in revenue and $143 million in expenses for the 2019 fiscal year, the most recent year for which figures are publicly available. 

The Vols had $96.1 million in revenue in the 2019 fiscal year, which stretched from July 30, 2018 to June 30, 2019. The football revenue accounted for 66.9% of Tennessee's total athletic department revenue.

Tennessee football generated an average of $100.4 million revenue in the past five fiscal years, starting in 2015 and ending in 2019.

How Phillip Fulmer wants Vols fans to help

Fulmer highlighted financial ways in which Tennessee will suffer even if limited attendance remains an option. He pointed to UT forgoing "tens of millions of dollars" in categories such as ticket sales and donations.

"Our financial circumstances have placed us in need of your help more than ever," he wrote.

Tennessee, which had seven home games in the 2018 season, netted $29 million from football ticket sales and $26.3 million from contributions, which includes the required donation tied to most season-ticket purchases. 

Fulmer asked season-ticket holders to convert their football ticket and donation dollars to a "philanthropic gift" to The Tennessee Fund even if the ticket holder does not attend a game this fall. He emphasized fans will get a tax deduction as well as "the pride of knowing you’re making a tangible impact in support of our young men and women."

UT is offering bonus Tennessee Fund points and an invitation to an exclusive event the night before the 2021 spring football game if circumstances allow, along with putting names on a tribute wall inside Neyland Stadium "for giving your all when the Vols needed it most."

The athletic department had $10.8 million in its reserve fund as of last June, and Fulmer stated then a goal to increase the department’s reserve so it would be better prepared for any potential “hard times.”

How the season-ticket process will work

Tennessee will email season-ticket holders Thursday to provide fans an opportunity to express their attendance preferences. 

"This will allow us to understand the ticket demand in a reduced-capacity environment," Fulmer wrote.

The email will include steps for fans who will not attend games but wish to donate to the newly established Student-Athlete Volunteer Excellence Fund.

On Tuesday, season-ticket holders who indicated they want to attend home games will receive another email explaining the ticket allocation process.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.