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The #EmptyNeyland Movement Is Sending The Wrong Message

Tennessee fans are understandably upset, but they are going the wrong way about voicing their displeasure.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Tennessee
Vols fans are planning to make their voices heard.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Vol Nation, I hear you. We are all suffering right now.

2017 is on pace to become the worst year in our beloved program’s history. We have lost to every SEC team we have played thus far, including Kentucky, who beat us for just the second time in 33 years.

This team almost went four straight games without an offensive touchdown. The defense is at best an average unit. If a field goal attempt is over 40 yards, go ahead and chalk it up as a miss.

The head coach is a constant loop of cliches, maxims, and talking points that have the weight of a feather. The assistant coaches - most of them, but not all - do not seem to know how to assemble a competitive game plan nor make the proper in-game adjustments.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Alabama
How most UT fans currently feel about the program.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Things are not just bad - they’re terrible - and fans have every right to be upset.

To an extent, we as fans cannot control what happens on the field, but how we react and handle ourselves inbetween Saturdays goes a long way toward the perception of the program - whether we realize it or not.

That’s why the #EmptyNeyland campaign needs to be snuffed out quicker than a Snickers bar on Halloween night.

I understand the frustration with Tennessee AD John Currie and his silent strategy concerning the future of the program. It would be a good move for him to simply state that Jones will finish the year but won’t return for 2018. I completely agree that his silence leaves the door open for a possible Jones return in 2018, but come on, we all know UT will struggle to make a bowl game and Jones will be fired at season’s end.

However, despite the obvious state of the program, fans feel like they have to take this situation into their own hands in order to force a decision on Currie’s end. For some reason, the idea of not showing up on Saturday is showcased as a big middle-finger to Currie and the other administrators, but in reality it’s more of a finger to our fellow VFLs and to the current players on the team.

Currie is not an idiot and he would have to be completely tone-deaf to misread the current mindset of Vols fans. I mean, just check out the reactions to his recent tweet concerning the tennis program. He knows that it’s going to be dire straits if he decides to bring Jones back for the 2018 season.

But this hasn’t stopped fans from sending obscene tweets, remarks, etc. expressing their dissatisfaction with Currie and the job he has done thus far. Right now, Currie is perceived as being “bigger than the program” or a “snob” by media and fans alike.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Tennessee
John Currie knows what needs to happen with the football program.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

On the other end, the perception of Vols fans is that we are divided and impatient. The former currently shows more than the latter, evidenced by the opposing #FillNeyland campaign being promoted on the opposite side of the Big Orange spectrum.

A pocket of fans have also called into local and statewide radio/television shows to dismiss other fans who plan on attending the final three home games of the season as “sheep". Some have even gone as far to dub said fans as “part of the problem”.

So let’s talk about the last time a fan-made protest made the rounds on Rocky Top. Basketball fans started a petition in 2014 to have then head coach Cuonzo Martin fired in favor of bringing Bruce Pearl back to Knoxville. The petition racked up a startling 36,000 signatures in favor of Martin’s departure.

How did that work out? Oh yea, the Vols made the Sweet Sixteen - despite the lack of fan support - in the NCAA tournament but Martin decided to head to Cal instead of staying at Tennessee. The Vols were then forced to hire one of the NCAA’s biggest compliance violators of all-time in Donnie Tyndall, who was subsequently fired just one year into his tenure.

It turned out to be one of the biggest slaps in the face in program history and most of the resentment towards Martin stemmed from an impatient fan base that wanted to get back to the peak days of Bruce Pearl.

This dissension amongst fans puts Tennessee in a spot that it’s rarely seen before. From the ground up, the program is trembling and the nation is starting to take notice.

What top-tier coach would want to come to a program where the fans are willing to create petitions and boycott games just to have their egos stroked? Fan loyalty goes a long way, just ask Penn State head coach James Franklin.

I do not mean to come off as if I am lecturing fans on how to behave and support their team. You do you when it comes to supporting your team - I am merely pointing out the simple fact that people are watching what happens with this program in the coming months. And how we react now could easily have an impact on what happens later.

But if staying united as a fan base isn’t enough to show up on Saturday, then do it for the players. We celebrate these kids as heroes when they decide to come to Knoxville. We all know that the current state of affairs isn’t their fault - for the most part. So why hang them out to dry?

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Tennessee
It is important for the fans to come out and show support for the players.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

To add to the point of a top-tier coach’s reluctance to be employed at a school with a fickle fan base - what five-star recruit would want to play for fans that won’t show up to games?

Not showing up on Saturday sends a message to the players that says, “if you don’t produce, then we don’t support”. Kids these days pay attention to everything they see on social media and you can easily bear witness to some pretty obscene remarks if you check the right feed. Could it be that these recruits are backing off from their commitment based off of what they see from fans on twitter? It is definitely a question worth considering.

Some fans think that by not showing up on Saturday that it will hit UT where it hurts - in the pocketbook. Let me just throw this bright idea out there - tickets aren’t paid for through a credit program. The tickets have already been purchased and the Vols already have your money.

Also, in actuality, you are just hurting the community more than you are the university. A lot of the money that is made during games goes towards schools, fundraisers, etc. that make a big difference in the community. Not showing up drastically reduces funding for these programs.

Frankly, it’s time to put pride aside. This bloodquest just to hear a decision is doing nothing but weakening the program as a whole. Whether or not Currie makes the decision to fire Jones today or at the end of the year won’t save 2017, but it could very well have an impact on how 2018 plays out.

The entire football program is a toxic mess and now that toxicity is beginning to permeate into the fan base. We need to stop the hemorrhaging, not allow it to continue. The best tourniquet is a solid showing of support for those who will be around for next year - not abandoning them.

We are the last of the foundation and when that falls apart, everything else goes down with it.