East Tennessee State University student senators Tuesday overwhelmingly supported starting a new football program in a historic vote that followed a passionate debate on the topic.
Twenty-two Student Government Association senators cast yes votes and five voted no on a resolution that encourages ETSU President Brian Noland to develop a football program. There was one abstention.
The vote does not automatically guarantee a return of football to ETSU, but it significantly clears the path for Noland to request the Tennessee Board of Regents, the governing body of ETSU, to approve a program.
By voting yes, the student senators imposed a $125 fee per student per semester to fund a new program should one be started. Noland, who was in attendance for the vote, said that fee would be sufficient to support football and Title IX requirements that support additional women’s athletics.
Leah Tilson, SGA vice president, said after the vote she was “giddy.”
She served on ETSU’s Committee for 125 task force on athletics that recommended in December ETSU look at starting a football program.
“I’ve spent a lot of time debating on which way I was for this, just because I was on the task force...,” she said. “And I am a student, so you know, I see how I want to have the excitement. I always go to the games, regardless of whether we’re good or bad, I’m always at them. I’ve always been an avid sports lover.”
But she understood that not everyone was able to afford a fee increase.
“But I don’t see this as something we should look down on,” she said. “We’re making our university better. It’s time for a change.”
Student senators debated for almost an hour before holding the vote. Many of the senators said they polled students on the street and via social media and got overwhelming support for a football program, even with a fee increase. Other senators pointed out that not everyone was supportive and thought any fee increases should go toward academics.
During the course of the debate, some senators pointed out that a football program could potentially highlight the school’s academic programs.
Several of the student senators pointed out that the annual homecoming celebration should center around football and not basketball as it has for the past few years.
Noland said two weeks ago that students would engage in a vigorous debate on football and he expected a decision on the subject to come soon.
After Tuesday’s vote, ETSU’s new athletic director Richard Sander said it was important to get student input on football, and he appreciated the passion the student senators displayed.
“I mean, you could tell from when they were in there, they’ve spent a lot of time and energy and did a great job of researching the issue and seeing exactly how football could impact the university, the community and all that sort of thing,” he said.
Sander, who began his position as interim athletic director at the beginning of this semester, said the vote does not mean football is a done deal, because there are other groups and constituencies across the community to speak to. Those discussions would commence soon.
Noland said after the vote that he was pleased the shared governance concept at ETSU of student involvement worked. Now he will discuss the vote with staff and faculty and the region.
“The students can not do this on their own,” Noland said. “It’s going to take the entire Buccaneer family to come together to make this move.”
Noland will now craft a football proposal to submit that to the TBR. The Regents should vote on it in March.
If it is approved, Noland said Sander will take the lead and look at potential candidates for coaches.
“We’re going to do this well,” Noland said. “We’re going to build upon the past, but as we move forward we’ll build a culture of excellence that’s going to bring people to the table.”
Football was ended at ETSU in 2003 for financial reasons. Students voted in 2007 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.
If the TBR approves the proposal for a new ETSU football program, Noland told the student senators a team could be on the field by fall 2015.