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ETSU president: School will look into starting new football team, other academic programs

Rex Barber • Dec 5, 2012 at 5:45 PM

A new football program could be started at East Tennessee State University and a new fine and performing arts center could be built in a few years, according to the school’s president.

Beginning the process of starting a football team, establishing a dental school and creating an arts initiative for a new fine and performing arts center were among the many recommendations for ETSU made Wednesday by committees tasked with looking into the century-old school’s future.

These recommendations were made by task forces created by the Committee for 125 and announced Wednesday at the Millennium Centre by ETSU President Brian Noland, who emphasized that there will be no football at the university next fall, just that the establishment of a football team has been recommended.

“As I’ve said on a number of occasions: We have no helmets, we have no shoulder pads, we have no tackling sleds, we have no field and we have no practice facility,” Noland said. “So this is starting something rather than restoring something.”

Football was eliminated at ETSU following the end of the 2003 season. The program was loosing $1 million a year at the time it was ended.

The issue of football will be explored further on campus and in the community, Noland said.

“We are going to put together a feasibility study around football,” Noland said. “We need to talk to our students about the revenue sources. But being mindful that the presence of intercollegiate football directly impacts conference affiliation, and as I’ve said on a number of occasions, we will do anything and everything we can to expand and enhance the capacities of ETSU. And if that means we have to expedite something, we’re prepared to expedite something.”

Noland said it would cost around $200,000 to exit the Atlantic Sun Conference.

The Committee for 125 was created earlier this year to generate a report on what ETSU should be at its 125th anniversary. Members of the committee hail from academia, private business and from across the country. This committee established six task forces for athletics, academics, marketing and so forth to develop the recommendations that were reported Wednesday.

Among these recommendations was an arts initiative Noland said he was very excited for and plans to “fast track” to implementation.

This arts initiative will establish support for scholarships, equipment and other things but also for the creation of a fine and performing arts center that Noland hopes will begin construction in a year or so on what is known as Lot 1. Lot 1 is a piece of land across West State of Franklin Road from the university and adjacent to Millennium Centre. ETSU had been interested in buying this property for years and was even approved for a purchase price of $1.1 million by the State Building Commission. But that price is old now and likely not valid.

Any movement on that purchase would require input from the Johnson City Public Building Authority and others, but Noland was hopeful.

“It (Lot 1) links with the community, it links with the resources in this building (Millennium Centre, because) parking is right next door in the garage and it really ties together the arts on campus... ,” he said.

ETSU was on the Tennessee Higher Education’s list sent to Gov. Bill Haslam to receive $1.7 million in planning funds for a fine arts center. The expectation is that the center would be shovel ready by July 2014.

Health care talk was prominent in Wednesday’s discussion.

Health sciences task force members had a long-term goal to establish a college of basic and applied sciences where students in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, public health and other health fields would take the same basic sciences under one college.

Pursuing a college of dentistry was proposed, as well, with the hope it would be up and running in five years.

The academics task force recommended creating a “one-stop shop,” for students to be advised and other student-related business and developing a renewable energy engineering program, among other things.

Noland said fundraising, tuition and fees, college affordability, student debt, and ETSU’s working closely with business and the community were also topics of discussion.

These recommendations will be considered by the Committee for 125 and then entered into a first draft report due out in January.

A final report, with some tweaking, is expected in March, though Noland said some of the recommendations will take a while to implement.

“We’ll not wrap this process up until spring, and many of these are long-term goals,” Noland said.

The last time ETSU generated such a report was at the school’s 75th anniversary. This report was drafted to outline the university’s goals for the centennial, which was marked in 2011.

All the deliberations from Wednesday’s meeting, held at the Millennium Centre, will be online for the public to view, as well as other documents and resources related to the Committee for 125 process. Access all this material at etsu.edu/125 .

Noland said everyone is encouraged to provide comments and reflections, so there will be an option for comments via email.

“Everything that we saw today the public will be able to watch, the public will be able to read, digest, consume and provide feedback on as soon as we can get it up on the web,” he said. “This is not a campus process, this is a community process.”

All this material should be available soon.

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