It will cost money to start and maintain a new football program at East Tennessee State University, and at least some students are just fine with paying for it.
Trying to determine what students think of a possible return of football to ETSU depends on who is asked, but Thursday many students questioned at random about a recommendation to start a football program expressed excitement at the prospect of watching a collegiate gridiron battle in Johnson City on fall Saturdays, even if having football meant paying higher fees.
Chrisshawn-Da Johnson, a graduate student studying biomedical science, got her undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina. She is a fan of the Gamecocks and thinks a strong football program could be beneficial for ETSU.
“I think bringing a football team back here will, you know, liven the crowd,” Johnson said. “I think it’ll bring more people to this area. It’s always good for recruitment, because kids here are not excited. You go to my school and it’s all about football.”
ETSU President Brian Noland announced Wednesday that the school, at the recommendation of an athletics task force, would examine the possibility of starting a football team. A feasibility study must be completed and the proposal analyzed further, but this is the first time football returning to ETSU has been discussed since 2007. In 2007, students voted against returning football to campus. Donations were collected in anticipation of a new program, but students were still asked to pay an additional $200 per year in athletic fees to fund the team by 2009. This would have made the yearly athletic fee at ETSU $350 per student.
Of those who voted, nearly 60 percent said no to football and the higher fees. A little more than 3,200 students cast ballots.
Football was eliminated at ETSU after the 2003 season. It had been reported the program was losing $1 million per year.
Abdulkareem Odesina, who is also a graduate student in biomedical sciences, said he does not have American football in his home country of Nigeria but as a student he said a football program at ETSU would be nice because sports serve to bring people together and create a sense of community among spectators.
Many students interviewed Thursday shared this sentiment.
“I think it would be a great idea because it would bring more students together,” said Savannah Stevens, a freshman majoring in pediatric physical therapy.
Stevens did think the only downfall would be an increase in student fees, but she would still pay more to have an ETSU football team, she said.
But those fees are what bothers student Jared Leftrick.
“I’m not for it at all,” Leftrick said.
He based this opinion on discussions he had with students and university officials during his time as parliamentarian with the Student Government Association a year ago.
Leftrick said current students came to ETSU because of the lower cost of tuition and fees, and a new football program would likely involve more fees for students.
If a new football program meant an increase in student fees, Caleb Clawson, a junior majoring in criminal justice, was fine with that.
“I’d personally be OK with that, because (football would) give students something to do and less time sitting around doing nothing,” he said.
He also thought football would be a good way to bring about a sense of community on campus and give football fans an opportunity to see a game locally instead of having to go to Knoxville to watch the University of Tennessee play.
Angela Freese, a senior working on her bachelor’s of fine arts degree in photography, said football is a big sport that everyone seems to love, which should lead to more pride among students. She, too, was just fine with higher tuition costs to support football.
“I think it’d be worth it, honestly,” Freese said. “I’d like to see it. I think it’d bring a lot of student pride.”
Kalyn Grindstaff, a freshman studying pre-medicine, was OK with paying more in fees if those fees were not too high. She needed more information to determine what would be a suitable fee.
However, the idea of football at ETSU was appealing to her because school pride is important to her.
“It brings everybody together, promotes the university too,” Grindstaff said. “And people would want to go to ETSU.”
Marlon Hampton and Austin Robinson, both freshmen were excited about a potential ETSU football program.
“I’d love to have a football team,” Hampton said. “I think the school’d be better if we had a football team.”
He said students need more activities and football would provide those activities, foster pride in the school and increase recruitment.
“I’m sure if ETSU had a football team everybody would go to the games, I’m sure we would raise money,” Hampton said.
Robinson said additional athletics fees are part of having a football team.
“The only downfall of football coming back is tuition would be raised, but I’d still have it if football was here,” he said.