A historic aerial photo of Neyland Stadium with the rest of campus fading into the background.

More than Football

What do you think of when you hear the name Neyland Stadium? Probably football, checkerboard end zones, and the rollicking sounds of “Rocky Top” coming from the Pride of the Southland Band. On Saturdays in the fall, 101,915 fans flock to one of the largest stadiums in the world to cheer on their beloved Volunteers. But what many may not know is what has been beneath the stands.

The brand-new stadium played host to its first football game in September 1921, with fans occupying the 3,200 seats on the west side of the stadium. Over the years, as football became more popular, the stadium grew and began to take on other uses.

In 1938, rooms were added to the stadium to house 120 students. At the same time, more than 12,000 seats were added above them. It was Nathan Dougherty, the civil engineering department head (and later dean of engineering), who convinced the university it would be efficient and practical to add housing and seating at the same time.

A historic image of dormitories under the east stands. Arches frame openings and windows.
Dormitories under the east stands (photo undated © Knoxville News Sentinel – USA TODAY NETWORK).

After completion of the project in 1939, the four floors under the completed east stands held 128 men, nearly half of whom were athletes. Housing in the stadium cost $30 for the fall quarter and $28 for the winter and spring quarters.

When the largest expansion in the stadium’s history occurred in 1948, South Stadium Hall was expanded to add 166 rooms, half of which were designated for football players. This brought the total capacity of students housed to 498.

Allan Benton (’69), world-famous curer of country hams and bacon, lived in stadium housing in 1968. “It was the best place. I was the happiest living in the stadium of any time living at the university,” says Benton, who majored in education. “The location was incredible, and I enjoyed all the folks who lived around me. We were hanging out all the time. There weren’t many of us that lived down there. It was easy to get acquainted with everyone. The surroundings were not luxurious accommodations, but I loved it.”

Students relax inside their dorm room located in Stadium Hall
Students in Stadium Hall dormitory (1970 Volunteer Yearbook, UT Libraries)

In 1970, it was announced that South Stadium would be closed but East Stadium would be open as a cooperative dormitory. Lack of student interest forced closure of both halls. Around 150 students lived temporarily in East Stadium Hall while waiting on a new apartment residence hall to be built.

By the summer of 1979, East Stadium had been brought back to life and housed around 70 students, continuing into 1980 with about 140 students. However, in 1985, interest in living in East Stadium Hall dwindled, and it closed to students.

Meanwhile, South Stadium Hall had taken on academic uses, housing graduate student offices, the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, and some spaces for engineering. Perhaps most notably, the anthropology department moved there in 1971 with the new head of the department, Bill Bass.

The outdoor research facility, known as the Body Farm, began to take shape near the UT Medical Center in 1980, and the first body was donated in 1981. Once a body’s time at the Body Farm was finished, bones were stored in archival boxes in the department offices and became part of the Bass Donated Skeletal Collection.

The collection was moved from under the stadium to Strong Hall when the renovated building opened in 2017.

Neyland Stadium Renovations

In 2024, fans throughout the stadium will have improved Wi-Fi and see new elevators in the southeast corner, a new Gate 4 entry plaza, and more brick cladding. The skyboxes are set for renovations and upgrades.

Fall 2025 will see an expanded South Concourse with more restrooms, better concessions, and a wider concourse. The Founders Suites will be completed, and Tee Martin Drive will move slightly south of the Gate 10 ramp. Entry plazas are scheduled to be finished in 2026.

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