Remember how terrible Tennessee’s play-it-safe approach looked in the wake of those lose-from-ahead setback defeats to Oklahoma, and Florida and Arkansas?

How many times this summer have the what-ifs been revisited over how much better the Vols might have finished had they not settled and gone conservative playing not to lose rather than prove their merit in victory?

Apparently it’s a trickle down Newton theory at UT, conserving momentum with brakes built in much higher up than in the football coaching offices.

Tennessee is paying $2.48 million to settle the lawsuit filed by eight unidentified female students who said UT had violated Title IX regulations and created a “hostile sexual environment” through a policy of indifference toward assaults by athletes.

Remember that hooplah UT took such pains to orchestrate to refute the charges? The mass gathering of coaches from all sports to discuss how open UT’s culture is and was, the strong words from athletic director Dave Hart and others?

It was just the precursor before the play-it-safe got involved.

Tennessee chose not to wait until 2018 to defend in court that culture it defended so adamantly in public. It chose to give us 2.48 million reasons to wonder what exactly we don’t know. What reason there was that UT would duck out out on a chance for vindication and the opportunity to clear its name it offered up.

“I’m proud of the culture we have here,” Hart told us in February.

Not proud enough to defend it? Or not something to be all that proud of?

That’s what we’re left to wonder in the wake of the settlement.

The case had sizable holes, from the addition of one plaintiff 10 days after a reported incident — which gave the school too little time to respond to the incident to be judged — to the changing story of a former player.

It seemed winnable from the outside but maybe the inside held more information. We may never really know.

If it was that bad, UT could have made deal with the plaintiffs early and avoided the duration of a not-so-welcome, months-long exposure. If it wasn’t, it could have battled it out to prove its campus culture was what it claimed in press conferences.

Instead, it took its lumps and when things got tough, UT played it safe and did its best impersonation of a DirecTV commercial, and just settled.

Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times.

An East Tennessee newshound since 1990, minus a few years spent working the road race circuit in D.C. , Marcus has been a reporter, copy editor and sports editor, and is now a production manager of APG's Design Hub located at The Daily Times.

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