East Tennessee State’s sojourn in Freedom Hall Civic Center turned out to be a three-game experiment after all.
After some discussions about the ETSU basketball team possibly playing more games at the Johnson City-owned facility, the team will return to the Minidome for the rest of its home schedule, the university’s athletic director Richard Sander said Monday.
“We looked at the possibility of playing more games there, but it’s just not practical,” Sander said. “We planned to do three games and we learned a whole lot. We got a tremendous amount of feedback. We feel we have a really great amount of information to help us base a decision in the future.”
That future could include the Bucs moving to Freedom Hall for next season, something that became more of a possibility after the three originally scheduled games — all victories — turned out to be successful. There was brief talk that the team might try to make the move immediately, but the logistics of the switch made it impractical.
“We need to go back to the plan to play the rest of the games at the Dome and continue to evaluate what can be done in the future at Freedom Hall,” Sander said. “We’re going to talk to the city. I think there are certainly some improvements that need to be made before we could do that. We’re going to start some discussions with the city leaders, and they’ve been great through these three games. There is interest from us and I think there’s an interest from them.”
The Bucs beat Samford, Stephen F. Austin and Marshall at Freedom Hall in games that each had a better basketball atmosphere than those in the cavernous Dome, where they are 0-2 with losses to Winthrop and Morehead State.
“I think it was really positive, the things we did,” Sander said “Of course, the team played well, so that was a positive. It felt like basketball. That was the overriding reaction from our ticket holders. It was really a tight, basketball facility where people could really get into it. The noise was good. The players responded to the noise and and the fans responded to the players.
“The team really enjoyed playing in there and the coaches enjoyed coaching in there.”
A permanent move could be a win-win situation for the school and the city.
“It enhances the value of the building and it gives us an opportunity to recapture the community,” Sander said.