Via email (HT LongVol)
Our story begins in 1974, when the University of Florida hires Robert Q. Marston to become it’s president. Marston was a traditional academic, purely focused on advancing the University of Florida academically and for the most part, making the athletics department a completely separate entity. Marston’s only interest in the athletics department at the University of Florida was enforcing the “student” part of the term “student athlete”. Marston empowered his deans & professors, and gave them complete control in academic matters regarding UF athletes. One such professor (actually assistant professor at the time) was our own Jimmy Cheek, who joined the University of Florida staff in 1975. There is no doubt that the professors of Florida had a certain admiration of Marston. Under him, any matters of conflict between academics and athletics would always go the academics way. No doubt, this greatly annoyed Doug Dickey, who had come from the University of Tennessee where there was more cohesiveness between the two sides.
After Marston left in 1984, Marshall M. Criser, Jr. stepped in. Criser was a rabid Gator fan, having lived in Florida and attended undergrad at the University of Florida. His policy towards athletics was to take an active role; some would say he had more influence than the current AD at the time. His lax policies and push towards athletics at the cost of academics landed multiple investigations from the NCAA. Under harsh criticism from alumni and faculty, Criser stepped down in 1989. At this point, Jimmy Cheek, who had become a full professor in 1985, had seen both sides of the spectrum: from a man who was purely academic to a man who lived and breathed Gator football. Cheek had seen how the latter had created an immense sense of embarrassment and disorganization within the University that he was apart of.
The next president of Florida, John V. Lombardi took a more controlled stance on athletics. After approving the hire of Steve Spurrier in 1990, Lombardi planned to step back and focussed solely on restoring the academic integrity that Marston had instilled within the University, and Criser had weakened. However, Spurrier had immediate success on the field. Lombardi couldn’t help but notice the amount of attention Spurrier’s success brought to the University. Unlike Marston’s philosophy that athletics were secondary and Criser’s philosophy that athletics were, in essence, primary; Lombardi took the in between stance. Why couldn’t academics and athletics coexist?
A lot of credit for Lombardi’s position has to go towards Steve Spurrier. Spurrier understood having to work with the administration on academic matters. Spurrier’s philosophy was to only ask for what he really needed. To put it bluntly, when Spurrier asked, he got it, because he didn’t ask a lot. And Lombardi was ok with this. It allowed him to keep the academic integrity of the school while seeing success on the athletics side of the University as well. However, as more and more success came his way, Spurrier started asking more and more for “exceptions” to be made for his student athletes. And Lombardi, seeing how the national coverage was benefiting the University, continued to let Spurrier have his way.
This began to anger many in the Florida administration, which included Jimmy Cheek, who had been named an assistant dean in 1992. His department, which to put it quite bluntly, had a lot of easy elective classes that many athletes took, was constantly involved with “exceptions” at the request of Steve Spurrier. While Cheek tried to remain strong, he was often overruled by Lombardi. This is where Cheeks resentment began to build and build and build. The success of UF athletics was unstoppable, and with that success the exceptions continued through Zook and Meyer.
Now, that brings us to where we are now. Jimmy Cheek has been put into a position of power where his has a clear ability to influence what goes on in the University of Tennessee’s Athletics Department. Cheek is set on turning the University of Tennessee into a purely academic institution where football, basketball, and other sports bend to academia’s will. Think the mindset of a lot of the ACC schools. Jimmy Cheek has adopted his idol, Robert Marston’s philosophy that whatever academia says, goes. His primary goal is to protect the integrity of the academic side of the University of Tennessee, and he sees the current state of UT athletics as a threat to that. That is why he pushed for Bruce Pearl to be let go, all-the-while saying he supported him to his face. That is why he pushed for Hamilton to resign (offering his $3 million package as incentive). Cheek aims to hire someone in the AD that he knows he can “push around”. By doing so, he can slowly whittle away at the power the University of Tennessee Athletic Department currently has within the University, which he believes, is getting in the way of academic growth.
It’s sad because a lot of you will dismiss or laugh these facts, and yes they are facts, off… all-the-while knowing in the back of your mind that it makes a lot of sense. Once you see the weakness of the new AD hire and the decisions that follow, only then will you start to realize it’s all the doing of Jimmy Cheek. A man with a clear goal to significantly weaken the power of the University of Tennessee’s Athletic Department.