Acknowledging he knew not everyone would be happy with the process, East Tennessee State University’s president said he did what he thought was best in pursuing a new football program when questioned about that process by faculty Monday.
ETSU President Brian Noland spoke at the March meeting of the school’s Faculty Senate on Monday afternoon. Among the topics on the agenda was an update on athletics and aspects of the process of establishing a football program.
At least half the meeting was dedicated to a discussion regarding this process.
David Champoullion, a professor in the music department, said he has been told some professors think the faculty was left out of the decision to pursue football.
Noland apologized if the football process did not seem open, but said football has been a topic of discussion at ETSU for many years and there were opportunities for discussion. Football was discussed during the search for a new president in late 2011, at various meetings and at other ad hoc discussion groups, Noland said.
Noland did say that perhaps he should have visited the Faculty Senate to discuss football but, ultimately, the decision to pursue a football program was up to students because student fees will pay for the new program.
ETSU’s Student Government Association voted in January in favor of a $125 per semester fee to fund football. The Tennessee Board of Regents will vote on that fee Friday.
One senator at Monday’s meeting said in her department, the concern is that football will take away focus from academic programs.
Football will not affect money used for academic programs, Noland promised.
One of the senators asked what the Faculty Senate could have said if asked about football. That question was not directly answered, but Faculty Senate President Randy Byington said the senators decided to remain neutral on the issue back in 2007 when it was put to a vote before the whole student body. That vote ended with the proposal to return football being defeated.
This is the shared governance process of this university,” Noland said. “And to simply take a vote would go around the shared governance process.”
Noland said not everyone may agree with that approach, but he thought he acted responsibly with respect to ETSU’s concept of shared governance.
Thomas Schacht, a professor of psychiatry, said he thought Noland was correct in involving the SGA but thought the students may have thought they should not have polled the whole student body prior to deliberating and holding a vote on the fee.
Noland said he would take all the senators’ concerns regarding football into consideration moving forward.
Noland discussed the football pro forma released a few weeks ago. This document estimated the cost to operate a football program at just under $4.9 million per year by 2018-19. Student fees collected from the $125 per semester would offset costs for a long time until the program becomes fully established.
“The pro forma indicates we will be running in the black with existing revenues ... through the end of this decade,” he said, adding that means no existing programs will have to close.
Apparently, it had been suggested some men’s athletics programs would have to cease to accommodate football and everything that would come with that new program. Noland said this was not the case, and three new women’s sports would be added.
By around the year 2021-22, the budget will have to be amended, but that would occur before then anyway, Noland said.
Noland also addressed the location for a football stadium. A stadium location will be researched by a consultant should the TBR approve the fee Friday. Noland said there are not a lot of suitable locations on campus. A potential partnership with the city has not been ruled out.
The Finance and Business Operations Committee of TBR, the governing body for ETSU, was scheduled to meet March 12 in Nashville to consider fee requests from various schools, including the $125 ETSU athletics fee.
That meeting was postponed due to member-scheduling conflicts. The new meeting date was scheduled Wednesday in Franklin.
This committee must vote on the fee before it goes before the full board for a vote. The full board is scheduled to meet Friday. Board members will vote on the implementation of the new fee at that time based on the committee’s recommendation.
This new fee would generate $2.5 million for football the first year beginning this fall. After that, the fee is estimated to generate $2.8 million per year.
Should the fee be approved, ETSU would move quickly to establish the football program. A head coach would be sought and probably hired by May. A team could be on the field by fall 2015.
“I knew when we went into this with football we were going to make a lot of people very happy and a lot of people mad,” Noland said. “Don’t summarily dismiss it. Give it a chance.”