Football in ETSU was suffering an estimated loss of $ 1. 1 million every year (Davis 2003). Apart from this yearly loss, ETSU football would need additional funding of $ 300,000 to $ 400,000 every year just to stay competitive with other schools. Furthermore, ETSU would also be needing another $ 400,000 to cover Title IX gender equity requirements for additional athletic programs and scholarships for female students (Watson 2003a).
The $ 1.1 million deficit experienced by the football program would be deemed better applied to other academic endeavors of the university. Stanton actually did not have much of a choice. In the summer of 2003, he was faced with the challenge of cutting more than $ 7. 5 million from the university’s $ 139 million budget as part of a statewide initiative (Davis 2003), which will be discussed more extensively later in this paper. Apart from program costs, ETSU would also have to replace the artificial playing surface in the Memorial Center within one to two years.
The school’s home, the 13,000-seat domed Memorial Stadium, also called the mini-dome, would necessarily need to have its indoor turf replaced in the near future if the football program continues (Davis 2003). This endeavor alone would require an estimated $ 750,000 to $ 1. 5 million (Watson 2003a; Watson 2003b). To stay afloat, the ETSU football program would need around $ 2 million every year in donations from the private sector.
This amount would be required not only to play football, but to meet federal gender equity requirements, and to ensure that the football team stays competitive with other Southern Conference members (Watson 2003b). Clearly, ETSU would need to make up for the $ 1. 1 million yearly deficit it experienced with its football program. Private funding was not a realistic alternative (Davis 2003), although there have been grassroots efforts to save the football program from the financial pinch.
For instance, Buccaneer alumnae players organized a three-day meeting at former player Robin Lynch’s Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens in Unicoi. The objective of the meeting was to find the best way to minimize or shorten the number of years ETSU will be without a football program. Many former players attended such as John Gibson, who was a wide receiver on the 1969 Grantland Rice Bowl champion; Ken Simonds (1957); Larry Berrong (1961); ETSU Hall of Fame coach Dave Walker (1957), among many others. Former players and ETSU alumnae came from all over, most of them with their families in tow (Williams 2004).
This meeting was spearheaded by Jerry Robertson, who was athletic trainer in ETSU for 43 years. The meeting agreed to form an executive committee and board of directors for a non-profit organization called “Providing Reserving Opportunities for the Future”, or PROF. According to Robertson, a timeframe will be set up after funds have been raised, and if the program for ETSU is not in place by then, then the funds raised will simply go to three other schools – Carson-Newman, Tusculum, and Emory & Henry (Williams 2004).
The Pirate Club, led be Executive Director Jo Anne Paty and other athletic officials, also attempted to save the football team by submitting a proposal for a last-gasp campaign to Stanton. The athletics department’s external staff – composed of marketing, media relations, and Pirate Club staff members – requested for Stanton to initiate at least one last official campaign to save the intercollegiate football program (Watson 2003b). The Pirate Club proposed a “Save Football Campaign” which could begin with a news conference in the school’s Memorial Center.
It would require five-year commitments, raising $ 2 million every year, with the initial contributions required in cash going directly to the bank. According to their press release, if the goals are not reached by the last football game on November 22, all donations will be returned (Watson 2003b). The memorandum issued by the group regarding this campaign also included reasons why such a campaign would be beneficial for the school. The memorandum cited alumni relations and the campaign’s potential impact on marketing sales.
The memorandum also stated that a campaign to save the football program will improve the university’s and alumni’s image which have suffered for their lack of effort in saving the football program (Watson 2003b) However, Stanton was not persuaded by these campaigns and last ditch efforts to save the football program. According to Stanton, the financial burden and repercussions of maintaining its football team was just something ETSU could not afford.
He further stated that the financial deficit is too large, and campaigns could just lead to false hopes. He said, “The total target is too large. I don’t want to mislead people” (Watson 2003b quoting Stanton). In other words, the need for funding would be continuous and recurrent. A one-year campaign would not be enough. Even if these campaigns raise the money to save the football program for a year, the costs and deficits need to be addressed every year thereafter. Stanton further stated that “These amounts would have to be recurring.
We might be able to raise it one time, but it would have to be sustained” (Watson 2003b quoting Stanton). The ETSU President also stated that to rely on such fund raisers would put undue pressure on the students, coaches and supporters wherein they have to continue work to sustain the program year after year (Watson 2003b). The bottom line was that ETSU could no longer afford its intercollegiate football team. Despite earnest efforts by supporters, it just wasn’t financially feasible to sustain the football program.