The Tennessee Vols’ 2020 football season is still uncertain. But this much is certain: It will be like none other.
How could it be amid the coronavirus pandemic?
Will fans be allowed in the stadium? If so, how many? And how will Tennessee decide which ticket holders will be admitted and which ones won’t?
The SEC has pushed back its opening weekend until Sept. 26. Between now and then, somebody will have to come up with the answers to tough questions.
Meanwhile, uncertainty abounds, as evidenced by the comments of UT chancellor Donde Plowman on Thursday.
“If we do play football, we won’t have tailgating on campus,” she said in a livestreamed student update.
Shortly afterward, UT issued a clarification.
“There will be no tailgates organized by the university, including student organizations,” UT spokesperson Tyra Haag said in a statement. “Details about individual fans’ ability to tailgate on campus are yet to be determined.”
Take heart, Tennessee fans. Tailgating is still alive — for now.
Hopefully, no fans harmed themselves or others in a fit of anguish over Plowman’s initial announcement. There’s a big difference between “no tailgating on campus” and “details about individual fans’ ability to tailgate on campus are yet to be determined.”
I talked to one Tennessee fan after Plowman’s announcement. He was at a loss.
“I have no idea what I will do,” UT fan Mark Taylor said.
He could have been speaking for thousands of Tennessee fans, who believe the right to tailgate is as sacred as freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. Maybe, some of those tailgating fans made their feelings known after Plowman said there would be no tailgating on campus.
No tailgating is preferable to no football. But the two are so intertwined, it’s hard to imagine one without the other, especially in the Southeast.
I know Tennessee fans who would rather miss a game than game-day tailgating. Some prove that regularly. They spend part of their fall Saturdays outside Neyland Stadium — eating, drinking and socializing. Then, as kickoff time nears, they head home to watch the game on television.
Taylor isn’t one of those fans. He wants the full experience — inside and outside the stadium. A Tennessee game day is a day and a night for him. It starts early and ends late.
No tailgating would knock a giant hole in his football Saturdays — assuming, of course, that we have football Saturdays.
His game-day itinerary has been more than 30 years in the making. When Plan A has worked so well for so long, why waste a minute devising a Plan B — just in case someone in authority might rule out tailgating? Your time would be better spent concocting a new recipe for barbecue sauce.
Taylor has been tailgating at UT games for 36 years, including the past 31 in the same spot. His spot is near Gate 13 on the southwest corner of the stadium.
“It started right out of high school,” said Taylor, who works at Litton’s Market and Restaurant. “It wasn’t as much about food as it was alcohol back then. As we got older, we got more involved with food.”
When food became more prominent, so did Taylor. He can cook. And he can cook early or late.
He usually arrives at the stadium about 6 a.m. no matter what time kickoff is. His menu probably isn’t much different from that of most tailgating chefs: barbecue, baked beans, coleslaw and hot dogs.
The crowd size ranges between 25 and 40 but was twice that big in the 1990s. It’s treated to more than food. Several televisions are available for viewing other games.
When I revisited the chance of no on-campus tailgating, Taylor said perhaps he could find another outdoor venue, set up the grill and the TVs.
But maybe that won’t be necessary.
After the confusion had settled, tailgating — like football — was still a possibility at Tennessee.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.