When: Thursday, September 3rd, 7:30 pm ET
Where: Kermit Tipton Stadium, Johnson City, Tennessee
Stream: SoCon Digital Network (it's free)
Radio: Buccaneer Sports Network
Series: First Meeting
On Thursday night in the Tri-Cities of Northeastern Tennessee, a sports rarity will occur. On the surface, it's a college football game between two FCS programs. Dig a little deeper, and you'll see two programs that didn't exist last season. One of those programs is taking the field for the first time ever; the other is coming back after 12 long years.
Kennesaw State versus East Tennessee State is a tale of two programs who are seeing the light after years or work. Kennesaw is under Paul Johnson disciple Brian Bohannon and ETSU comes in led by coaching veteran Carol Torbush.
ETSU last played in 2003, where crippling budget cuts by the states of Tennessee gave then-president Paul Stanton Jr a reason to shut down the fledgling program. Shortly after, the Southern Conference gave ETSU the boot, sending them to the football-less Atlantic Sun and away from their historic rivals.
ETSU football supporters tried many times to bring back the program, only to be stopped over and over. ETSU football was the black sheep of Johnson City as no one affiliated with the university wanted to touch it.
Then in 2011, Brian Noland became president of ETSU. Immediately the football question was raised and he let the students decide. In January 2013, students passed a $125 fee which gave Noland the funds to bring football back. In May 2013 after the announced departures of Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Davidson and Elon all within a 60-day period, the Southern Conference re-admitted ETSU, primarily because of their resurrected football program.
The Bucs will play their first two seasons at 6,600-seat Kermit Tipton Stadium on the campus of Science Hill High School, where Steve Spurrier went to high school. Plans for a 10,000-seat on-campus stadium are in the works, scheduled to open by Fall 2017.
For a long time, Kennesaw State had an interest in starting a football team. After starting a move to Division I in 2005, the Owls began conducting football feasibility studies. After years of waiting, Owls' football fans got their answer in February 2013. Shortly after, Bohannon was announced as the first football coach. KSU, a member of the football-less Atlantic Sun, were accepted as a football-only member of the Big South Conference in September 2013.
Kennesaw State already have a home stadium with the 8,300-seat Fifth Third Bank Stadium. FTB has been known as a top college soccer venue, hosting the 2011 Women's College Cup. The Owls' first-ever home game is next Saturday, September 12th versus Edward Waters. Unlike ETSU who will wait a year before playing a SoCon schedule, Kennesaw State will jump right into the Big South football slate.
Both teams go into the game perhaps the two youngest teams in all college football. Kennesaw State has 5 seniors, 17 juniors, 10 sophomores and 73 freshman. ETSU is even younger with no seniors, 3 juniors, 11 sophomores and 97 freshman.
With a lot of unknown, it's hard to predict the game. However, the important thing is that the game is happening.