Three weeks before a Tennessee Board of Regents meeting that can clear the way for football to return at East Tennessee State, the planning continues in haste.
Athletic director Richard Sander said this week he sees no reason why the university won’t get a green light to proceed when the Regents meet March 29 in Nashville.
“We’ve done some of the preliminary work, the financial pro forma of how we see this happening,” Sander said Tuesday. “They’ve had a few questions, and we’ve submitted responses. I haven’t seen any major red flags, but until it’s done you can’t be sure.”
In the meanwhile, Sander is steaming ahead with preparations. There’s no shortage of details in laying the groundwork for a new football program.
“There’s tons, putting together everything,” he said. “There are just so many issues involved, from hiring coaches, figuring out how to go through HR at the university, dealing with affirmative action for hiring coaches, to starting to look at uniforms, helmets and practice gear. We’re thinking about how the facilities issues will go, office space for the coaching staff … it’s all intertwined.”
Sander, who is working at ETSU on an interim basis, continues to drum up support in the community. He says that’s at the heart of the matter if football is to be successful the second time around.
“We’re trying to create a plan that makes sense, a short-term plan and long-term plan on how to engage the community and generate interest, get people to join in to help make this a reality,” said Sander. “All along, people have said if you bring back football, we’ll help financially. Now we have to make that happen, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that this has been a consistent barrier to moving the athletic department forward, so this process should knock that down and everyone will be on the same page. We need to be very smart and strategic in how we build this, and we’ve been involved in numerous discussions with other institutions that have been through it.”
Sander is in Macon, Ga., this week to attend Atlantic Sun Conference meetings and the basketball tournament at Mercer. With all the talk about football and new conference affiliation for ETSU, he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would receive there.
“It’ll be interesting to hear what all is said,” he said. “We’ve been real straight forward – if we’re going to start football, we need a home for football. Everybody knows the A-Sun doesn’t play football.
“I think they are looking into creating some sort of alliance with the Big South. Both have football-playing members and there’s probably some kind of alliance where the A-Sun and Big South can work together.”
There’s been plenty of speculation here about ETSU returning to its conference roots – either the Southern or Ohio Valley.
Sander couldn’t be sure what he’d see on the basketball court in Macon. The Lady Bucs had a quarterfinal game on Wednesday, while the Bucs play today.
It’s been a rather disastrous season for both teams.
The Bucs are 10-21 and on the verge of setting a school record for losses. They had two seniors arrested, and then dismissed, early in the season.
The Lady Bucs were 8-17, their second straight season with just eight wins, heading into the tournament. They had two players quit along the way and ended the regular season with a player decking an opponent with a punch that drew a suspension.
Sander said there will be a review process after both teams have finished and coaches have had time to meet with players.
“You just have to deal with it,” he said. “We’ll sit down and look at why those things happened, and try to minimize the possibility of them happening again. Clearly the coaches are concerned about it.”
Sander said he wouldn’t shy away from getting involved in personnel issues simply because he’s working on a six-month contract.
“I have no reluctance,” he said. “The president told me when I got here that he wanted me to do what I would do if I was in this for the long term. So I’m taking a big-picture perspective.”
Gonzaga, that mid-major darling in Spokane, Wash., moved to No. 1 in the men’s basketball rankings for the first time this week. Sander, who spent two decades as AD at Virginia Commonwealth, admitted that brought a smile to his face.
“Sure, that’s something that every mid-major would aspire to be,” he said. “When we were at VCU, that was our goal. We were committed to having a nationally prominent basketball program. It was our No. 1 priority and everybody understood that. But it’s a process and it takes a long while.
“Decisions were made that got Gonzaga to where it is today; it’s not random. You have to get some breaks, some good luck. That’s what it takes. Sound things have to be in place so when everything comes together you can make significant progress and compete on a national level.”