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ETSU football supporters say sport’s impact goes far beyond the field

Rex Barber • Jan 30, 2013 at 10:04 PM

Football at East Tennessee State University would add more students, experiences and opportunities, according to some community supporters of the effort to bring the sport back to campus.

Jerry Robertson, a member of the Buc Football & Friends Foundation, said he felt good for the university, where he was athletic trainer for many years, now that a proposal to bring back football is being drafted for consideration by the Tennessee Board of Regents. The TBR governs ETSU.

“I feel good for the students,” he said Wednesday morning. “This is a first step and I feel proud of what (ETSU President Brian) Noland and the faculty and staff and students are doing.”

Student Government Association representatives at ETSU voted Tuesday in favor of asking Noland to pursue a new football program and to impose a $125 fee per student per semester to fund it. Football was last played at ETSU in fall 2003. The program was canceled for financial reasons.

Robertson was on the athletics task force for the Committee for 125, a group charged with looking at ETSU’s future. It was this group that recommended the school look into establishing football.

“Well, it provides an opportunity for people to go to school and get an education,” Robertson said of what a football program would do. “It doesn’t just involve the football team, it involves a marching band and a whole bunch of other activities.”

The campus Mini Dome, where football was previously played, has been widely criticized as a poor venue. Noland has said he does not want football to be played in the Dome.

Should football be approved by the Regents, Robertson said an agreement with the city of Johnson City to play at Science Hill High School’s football field would be a good alternative until ETSU can build its own new stadium.

C. M. Boggs, also a member of Buc Football & Friends Foundation, said a football program would likely add 500 or so students.

“There’s a lot of advantages to a football team and a marching band and cheerleaders coming back,” he said.

He thought the community would get behind a new ETSU football program.

Noland said after Tuesday’s vote that it would take community support to have a successful football program.

“There’s a lot of interest,” Boggs said. “We have never seen too many people against the football team and marching band.”

He said a football program would provide a lot of opportunities for young people.

“It’s not about a football game as much as it is helping young people get through school,” Boggs said.

Regarding a stadium, Boggs said no one wants to go in the Dome to watch a football game. He said a new stadium should be built on campus to get alums back on campus during games.

He thought that was indeed possible.

Frank Hawkins is also a member of Buc Football & Friends. Asked what it would take to have a successful program, he said a winning team would draw people to games. He thinks Noland will assemble a good coaching staff to accomplish that.

“It’s essential in putting together a winning program they get a good coach and good staff and put the sport behind it,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he thinks people have missed ETSU football and want it back.

“It’ll bring back things that the campus hasn’t had, such as homecoming,” Hawkins said. “I think it makes a big difference in homecoming.”

Ted Hughes, also a member of Buc Football & Friends, said he thought the addition of football was a great turn for the university and that it would allow homecoming on campus to thrive.

“It gives you spirit,” he said. “It gives you enthusiasm. And it gives you something to build homecoming around.”

Kimberly Reece, who worked at ETSU while a doctoral student and interviewed numerous ETSU football players, some of whom played in the 1940s, about their experiences for her dissertation, said football at ETSU would add many positives not only for players but for the whole student body.

“In college football, to me it’s about access to opportunities for not only scholarships for football players but the learning experience of football and the environment of being around football can teach any student and fan,” Reece said.

She said an alumni connection is deepened by a well-run football program.

“The cost of not having football has been greater than the cost of having it,” she said.

Noland said Tuesday he plans to discuss the student vote with staff, faculty and the community before developing a proposal to submit to the Regents.

The Regents could vote on an ETSU football measure in March.

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