logo



Looking at possible teams for the Battle at Bristol, Part 2

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 26, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Two decades in the making, the Battle at Bristol is to date the most attended football game of all time.

On Sept. 10, 2016, Tennessee defeated Virginia Tech 45-24 at Bristol Motor Speedway in front of an announced crowd of 156,990. It shattered the old NCAA attendance record by over 40,000. It followed the largest crowd ever to attend an ESPN GameDay event and a day after East Tennessee's own Kenny Chesney performed in front of the largest concert crowd ever in the Tri-Cities area.

A week later, ETSU defeated Western Carolina 34-31 in front of a school-record crowd of 13,863 fans. With the success of those events, the question was whether there would be a second version of the Battle at Bristol.

That was answered in January when Bristol Motor Speedway General Manager Jerry Caldwell and Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith confirmed plans for another football game at BMS.

While short on details with no dates or teams announced, they confirmed that multiple college football programs had been contacted. They also didn't cross out the possibility of a professional game like the original game in the BMS infield in 1961 between the Washington Redskins and then, as now, world champion Philadelphia Eagles.

So, who’s it going to be?:

College teams

Tennessee — The most logical choice to be a part of a second Battle at Bristol, the Vols have the rabid fan base and the knowledge of being through the promotion of a game at BMS. While many have pointed to current athletic director Phillip Fulmer being a traditionalist, he was involved so closely in the promotion of the first game and it definitely drew a lot of attention to the UT program.

Plus, the Vols are an attractive matchup with any of the other teams on the list.

Virginia Tech — A second matchup between the Hokies and the Vols makes the most sense from both a geographical standpoint, where it's a natural rivalry, and from the standpoint of both programs being through the experience before. If held in say 2022, it could be a very intriguing matchup with both programs competing at a very high level.

Alabama — The most successful college football program of all time, the Crimson Tide fans have proven they will travel to other venues to support the team. Alabama has made Atlanta a second home, but have also sold out in Dallas. With their current run of success, the Tide would be a guarantee to bring a lot of fans. In addition, many 'Bama fans were snarky after the Tennessee and Virginia Tech game set the attendance record. It's a record that Tide supporters would love to have for themselves.

Ohio State — When BMS was consistently selling out every NASCAR Cup Series race, a large portion of the fan base came from Ohio. Add the rabid following of the Buckeyes and a matchup with Tennessee, Alabama or Virginia Tech should be able to match the attendance of the first Battle at Bristol.

Clemson — According to a January report by David Hood of TigerNet.com, Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich stated he had been contacted by game organizers. He called it intriguing, but said with the upcoming schedules set through 2024, it's not something they are looking to do. If some things could be moved, Clemson is just 170 miles from BMS and provides a good matchup for many of the teams mentioned.

Notre Dame — Traditionally the largest national following in college football, it makes sense for the Fighting Irish to be a part of the largest game. When Notre Dame is good, the national spotlight on the Irish makes them an attractive opponent for any other national power.

Michigan — Much in the vein of its Big 10 rival Ohio State, BMS has traditionally attracted many fans from Michigan. It's another fan base noted for traveling long distances to support the Wolverines and provides a good matchup with the SEC or ACC schools.

Penn State — The last of the Big 10 schools that would have both the drawing power and be in close enough proximity to make it feasible. Tennessee fans wouldn't mind another crack at Penn State coach James Franklin, who gave the Vols fits while at Vanderbilt. The Nittany Lions also are a good matchup with Alabama, Georgia or Clemson.

Georgia — The Bulldogs are already a big draw, but look for them to gain an even larger national following with the early success of coach Kirby Smart and the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. It's not too far of a trip, and a scenic one at that, just a little over four hours from Athens to Bristol.

Virginia — It fits into the whole border theme with Tennessee same as Virginia Tech, but the Cavaliers don't have the rabid following of the Hokies. Also, the trip is virtually the same distance as Georgia and a matchup with either the Vols or Alabama is really the only way of seeing this one draw a huge crowd.

West Virginia — The Mountaineers have a strong following, although not on the national level of an Ohio State or Michigan, and it's reasonably close at five hours away. West Virginia and Virginia Tech played at the Washington Redskins home field to open the season and that was a success, but it would take nearly twice as many people to make a game at Bristol feasible.

Texas — National following, yes. Rabid fan base, perhaps the most rabid in all of college football. But the distance of a 16-hour drive from Austin, Texas, to Bristol, or the costs of flying from there to the Tri-Cities would discourage many of the Longhorns fans from coming to the game. I could easily see the promotion of the Battle of the Real UT.

Other traditional powers — Oklahoma, Nebraska, Auburn, Southern Cal, LSU and the Sunshine State trio of Florida, Florida State and Miami all have national followings, but it's hard to imagine any of them bringing enough fans to BMS to make it anything close to the first game.

That's not to say a game with 110,000 or 120,000 fans wouldn't be a success. It's still a huge crowd, very profitable for all parties involved and a special event, but it wouldn't come close to the level of the first Battle at Bristol.

How about ETSU?

It's safe to say once the next matchup is set, there will be another offer for ETSU to play another game at the speedway. It could come as part of a weekend doubleheader, before more likely on the next Saturday like the last time.

While the Bucs have their new stadium, the excitement surrounding the first Bucs at Bristol game against Western Carolina and the possibility to again break the school attendance record would make it appealing against a team like an Appalachian State, Liberty or Western Carolina.

Could there be a professional game?

It's a possibility and the most obvious matchup would be the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers, particularly if the Smith family that owns BMS is part of a group to buy the Panthers.

The Washington Redskins were the old home team in the area and play into that Tennessee-Virginia theme. The fourth team that might end up in a BMS game is the Cleveland Browns since the track has already partnered with Pilot/Flying J and the Browns are owned by Jimmy Haslam.

A frequently asked question is whether BMS could host the Super Bowl. The answer is no, with not enough hotels in the Tri-Cities area as required by the NFL. But, they could possibly host an XFL Championship game, which could easily be teamed with a World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view — think Backlash or Money in the Bank.

Recommended for You

    Johnson City Press Videos