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Pressure on Vols fans to attend spring game

The pressure is mounting for Tennessee’s spring football game Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

The pressure isn’t on the players. It’s on the fans.

The question: To go or not to go?

“We need our stadium full,” secondyear coach Jeremy Pruitt said last week.

Any directive from the head football coach to the fans is serious business. But Pruitt increased the importance of his message to red-alert status by mentioning recruiting. He said that a full stadium would get the attention of

recruits.

Now, that’s making it personal.

Imagine how you would feel a few years from now if an All-SEC player told a reporter, “I almost signed with Tennessee, but Alabama had more fans at its spring game. So, I picked the Tide and never looked back.”

I have such a strong sense of empathy, I feel guilty just writing that.

Some Tennessee fans still feel guilty from the last spring game when Pruitt admonished them for the lack of attendance. They’re probably were asking themselves after the 2018 season, “Would we have ended our losing streak to Vanderbilt if I had gone to the spring game?”

My unbiased opinion: No. So, stop beating yourselves up.

I don’t blame Pruitt for wanting a big crowd at the spring game, but he’s asking a lot.

Tennessee can’t even fill its stadium for regular-season games. Never mind the announced crowds for home games last season.

UT’s actual attendance — people in the seats — was 543,343 for an average of 77,906 per game.

It’s remarkable that many fans showed up since the Vols were on their way to a losing season. But UT fans are so fiercely loyal, they will turn out in droves even for the Alabama game, which has become a hopeless cause.

But if UT wants to attract more fans to Neyland Stadium for a spring game, it needs to give fans something in return.

A competitive game would help. Divide up the teams equally and let them go at it for four quarters.

That alone wouldn’t be enough to attract a full-house crowd, especially for a 6 p.m. kickoff (the SEC Network doesn’t give the best time slot when you finish last in the SEC East).

Knoxville talk-show host Tony Basilio suggested that Tennessee drop a million dollars in cash from a helicopter into Neyland Stadium to attract fans. That’s absurd. Tennessee only shells out that kind of money to fired coaches.

I have a more sensible suggestion, which would combine money and danger — an irresistible crowd draw. I call it, “Get rich or get burned trying.”

At halftime of the spring game UT officials could set cash on fire at midfield and have randomly selected fans try grab cash before it turned to ash. After all, the way Tennessee hires and fires coaches, it has money to burn.

But I’m not sure Tennessee officials would be willing to give fans a shot at a million dollars. They expect fans to give them money.

So, make it $100,000, not a million.

Also, in the interest of fan safety, UT should be sure to have the Knoxville Fire Department available to hose down the competitors.

If UT thinks burning money is too extreme, I have another idea. Let fans bring a dog to the spring game.

Since attendance figures aren’t limited by species, the dogs would count, too.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or john.adams@knoxnews.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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