President attempts to boost student engagement
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 09:02
ETSU President Brian Noland is making a statement. And not just with his golden corduroy pants.
For the first time since he took office, he is getting behind the movement to bring back football.
Noland made it clear from the beginning that he wanted to be involved on the ETSU campus. He wasn’t going to do it alone, either. As the years have gone by, Noland said his desire for the student body to be involved in the university’s culture has grown. That’s one reason he went against normal fashion sense at last Thursday’s basketball game.
“Everything in my house is blue and gold,” Noland said. “The office is blue and gold. My wife found the pants, and [that] night I knew there was going to be a large amount of student attendance. I was just trying to help build excitement and engagement with the student.”
On morning jogs around campus, Noland takes time to get a sense of the vibe. It was one fall Saturday when he started thinking that something needed to be added to make the beginning of ETSU’s school year more exciting.
“It was just quiet.” Noland said. “We [were] in the third weekend of school, and there [had] been nothing on campus. Nothing. If you are a freshman and you come here … and you don’t know anybody, the first weekend, you’re excited, then you go home for Labor Day, and you come back, nothing has happened for the first three weekends. About the second weekend, students start feeling the tug to go back home.”
According to Noland, the next step in building that excitement and engagement with the students and community is bringing back the football program.
“For a while, we’ve been gathering information, and listening, and that was truly all we had in mind,” Noland said. “I think the meeting at SGA was the first time I went public in support of it.”
Noland stood at the SGA meeting last Tuesday and declared that “without football, [ETSU] may go down.”
In an exclusive interview with the East Tennessean Friday, he said there were many things that were changing in the college world and that ETSU needed to branch out to keep up.
“Three years ago, for anyone ever to think that a school like Texas A&M would leave the Big 12 and go to the SEC, I would have said ‘no way’,” Noland said. “As all these changes are occurring, I knew we needed to bring in [Sander] … so that when the ground stopped shaking, we would be standing where we wanted to be.
“The third question I was ever asked when I was interviewed for the position was ‘how do you feel about football’,” Noland said. “I know that there is a lot of opposition … but let’s say I get 30 emails. Generally 28 of them are positive, and there are another two that ask questions.”
Noland says that he realizes there are a lot of people who are not overjoyed about the idea of football coming back. But he believes that its inclusion will “bring people back into the fold.”
“We’ve got to take our time to make this program sustainable,” Noland said. “We’ve essentially got 16 months to plan, and we’ve done our due diligence on all of this … it’s not like we’re going to get a coach and play in the fall. We’re going to take our time and do it right.”
According to Noland, football would even bring academics more relevant at ETSU.
“The way for us to even be in the conversation on a daily basis with schools like Appalachian State, UT Chattanooga, James Madison, George Mason … is if we have football,” said Noland. “Without it, we won’t get to be in that conversation.”
One of the questions the football program will face in the coming years, should it complete the return, is its location. Noland acknowledges the issues the Dome has had in the past.
“In all honesty … we are not there,” Noland said of a decision to construct a stadium. “We’re trying to look ahead because we’re not just building a football field for today, we’re trying to build a football field for 40 to 50 years from now … the last thing that any of us want to do is tie the hands of the university.”
Some of the options for the new stadium on campus include right next to the new parking garage, and close to the CPA. However, Noland and the 125 Committee is also looking elsewhere in the community. Either way, the new stadium will require ETSU’s potential team to play in other areas before finding a home. These areas will most likely include high schools around the area. According to him, the university is in conversations that could land them there.
“I think you will see us play a couple games [at Science Hill],” Noland said. “I think you could see us play a couple games at several high schools around the region that first year. That builds support, it gets our product in front of the people, and it lets them know that football at ETSU is here. ”
The plan is for ETSU’s football team to start playing a JV schedule in 2014 with a full varsity schedule to follow in 2015.