A decision on whether to start a new football program at East Tennessee State University or to focus on other sports could come within six weeks, the school president said Tuesday in a conference call with the school’s new athletic director.
Richard Sander, who was named Monday as interim intercollegiate athletic director at ETSU following the retirement announcement of Dave Mullins, spoke to area media Tuesday afternoon via phone and gave insight into his vision for ETSU athletics.
Creating a new brand for athletics, conference affiliation, basketball facilities and more were topics of discussion in the call, but football dominated, specifically how students would be affected and participate in the process of creating a football program. He said it is critical for everyone with an interest in ETSU to be participants in that discussion.
“This is going to be very transparent,” Sander said of the upcoming discussion around football. “We’re going to give everybody an opportunity to share their thoughts and then we’ll gather that information and make a decision, and then not apologize, move forward with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement.”
ETSU’s spring semester begins Thursday. Sander said he, ETSU President Brian Noland and others would have conversations with students, staff, faculty and the community regarding football as soon as school starts.
“We’re not wasting any time here,” Noland agreed. “I anticipate that there will be a vigorous debate among the student body over the course of the next three to four weeks regarding football. I anticipate that the outcome of that discussion will then move us in a direction as an institution to take the next steps towards starting a program. We do not have time as a luxury point. This is not a conversation, because of the conference dynamics, where we can say, ‘We’re going to spend three years studying this and see where we are in three years.’
Sander will arrive in Johnson City today and begin work today, Noland said.
Sander knows much about ETSU and the school’s athletics department because he has been participating in the Committee for 125’s athletic task force since fall.
This task force, among other things, recommended looking at establishing a football program. The last time a football team was fielded at ETSU was in 2003.
Mullins asked Sander to participate in the Committee for 125.
He shared his experience and expertise gleaned during his time as athletic director at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he learned about how to form a national brand to develop the athletic department.
According to an ETSU news release, Sander retired as athletic director from VCU in 2006 and later founded Docdi Consulting, LLC, which specializes in brand-enhancement initiatives and strategic planning, working with such programs as Gonzaga, George Mason, Western Kentucky and the Colonial Athletic Association.
During his tenure, the VCU Rams claimed 27 CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) championship titles and made deep runs in the NCAA tournaments in men’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, golf, men’s and women’s soccer and baseball. Sander also oversaw nearly $40 million in capital improvements for VCU athletic facilities. These additions included the construction of Alltel Pavilion, which has been recognized as one of the nation’s top home court advantage for men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams while also serving as a venue for numerous special events.
A new football program will take resources, Noland said. The size of a budget for a potential football team depends on what kind of team is established and if scholarships are offered. Noland said any establishment of a football team would require prioritization of resources.
Noland is looking at what share of the financial burden students would have with a new football program. Sander will help look at all that.
But because students factor so heavily into a possible football program, they must have a voice in the final say, Noland said.
“I cannot in good conscience get ahead of those conversations,” he said. “The student will be the individual who will have a proportionate share of the partnership. This is a true partnership. It’s going to take a community partnership, a campus partnership and a partnership with our students. But we have to let the students have that conversation.”