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Task force looking at ETSU athletics

Kelly Hodge • Oct 2, 2012 at 7:46 PM

A task force that will take an in-depth look at East Tennessee State athletics, including the possible return of football, has begun its work.

The 15-member panel met for the first time Tuesday on campus and has already broken into four subcommittees. Chairman Ken Bailey said ETSU president Brian Noland expects to have the recommendations from its work in early December.

“Dr. Noland has asked us to look at athletics, everything in athletics — facilities, sports offered, finances, engagement, our vision for the future,” said Bailey, a Greeneville judge. “It is a lot, but this committee has been charged to dream big, look at all the options and possibilities out there. Dr. Noland has big plans and big ideas for the university.”

The Athletics Task Force is under the umbrella of the Committee for 125, which is examining how the university might be shaped as a whole over the next quarter-century. A list of the members will be released later this week by University Relations, said Mike White, associate athletic director for communications.

Bailey said subcommittees are preparing to move forward and address the following areas:

— competition and branding;

— financial assessment — current funding levels and the ramifications of additional sports;

— support and engagement — includes the community, students, faculty and staff;

— facilities — what is in place, and what the future needs are.

Football, of course, will be in the spotlight. ETSU dropped the sport in 2003 after eight decades of competition, and it now stands alone in that respect among state-supported universities.

A segment of the fan base continues to lobby for football’s return, but there are questions about where it falls on the priority list. A new outdoor stadium would likely be part of any comeback plan.

Noland said in the spring that he wants to see ground broken for a new convocation center that would serve as home to basketball “within five years.” He has yet to commit to restarting football, saying he first wants to see what these meetings yield.

“Football will be a big part of our discussion as we move forward,” said Bailey. “We’re also looking at other sports – basketball and the facilities we have for basketball; the funding of sports and scholarships. But football is a big topic.

“I want to let everyone know that we’re looking forward. We’re not looking back at decisions made in the past. When Dr. Noland and I first discussed this task force, he stressed that he wants us to look forward.”

Bailey is a 1992 graduate of the university who served as student president for a time on campus. Now a judge in general sessions and juvenile court in Greeneville, he says he’s honored to come back and serve in this unique way.

“I’ve remained involved with the university, and I look forward to getting down to work on this,” he said. “I think everyone was excited today. It was a very productive meeting.”

The task force is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 19.

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