Tri-Cities: Will You Sell Out Your Town?

Who a Tri-Citian roots for in the ETSU-Tennessee football game may reveal a lot about what they really believe in.

Marky Billson, host of Tri-Cities Sports NOW

Rooting for Tennessee to beat ETSU is understandable.

Let’s say you’re from Knoxville. You either live there now or you moved from there. That’s understandable.

You’re rooting for the home team. People who don’t are so annoying.

Or, perhaps you went to the University of Tennessee. Engineering, communications. Can’t go wrong there.

You’d be Judas if you didn’t pull for the Vols.

But if you hail from the Tri-Cities area, have no real affiliation with Tennessee other than some apparel or a ticket plan, and you don’t root for ETSU tomorrow, then you’re selling out your town. Plain and simple.

Don’t believe patronizing clichés saying an ETSU victory would “put the Tri-Cities on the map!” Last week three FCS teams beat FBS ones.

Off the top of your head, name ‘em.

But such a triumph could enforce the notion locally at the end of the day, ETSU and Tennessee are both Division I athletic programs. That ETSU beat Tennessee in two out of three baseball games last year, which is not as satisfying as a football victory would be for Bucs fans, but speaks of two athletic programs playing at a closer level than perhaps they’re given credit for.

More so, that Knoxville and the Tri-Cities are comparable metropolitan areas. The former is the 61st largest television market in the country, the latter is the 99th. Both are sitting in the second half of 100 out of 210 total.

They have a Southeastern Conference athletic program, we have a NASCAR track.

Knoxville may not think of itself as New York City, and rightly so. But it doesn’t think of itself as small, either, and it’s high time the Tri-Cities stop thinking it is.

What can sometimes be frustrating about living in the Tri-Cities is there seems to be a fear of growth despite the area having so much growth potential.

Growth in the Tri-Cities seems to come primarily from annexing rural areas into the cities.

But the area has become more cosmopolitan, slowly but surely; kicking and screaming. In the last quarter century Bristol Motor Speedway has expanded to become NASCAR’s third-largest racetrack. Interstate 26 connects Asheville with Kingsport. Healthcare in the community has grown exponentially.

The thing about ETSU sports is that there is so much potential, but one wonders if even the Buccaneers see it. Certainly former ETSU President Paul Stanton and athletic director David Mullins didn’t when they dropped football in 2003; instead focusing on building new facilities for sports like tennis and softball.

There seems to be a “think small” mindset. We’re happy with Rookie level baseball. Or old Freedom Hall. Or just the status quo.

When football coach Carl Torbush retired last year, ETSU could prop him up to be the second coming of Bobby Bowden at his retirement press conference despite his 11–22 record because it’s simply expected the Buccaneers are going to lose on the gridiron. And as long as ETSU told us the coach loved boiled peanuts and Jesus, then who’s to complain about a .333 winning percentage?

Fans like a winner. Despite their recent lack of success fans around here still perceive the Vols as winners.

So to a great many of people in the Tri-Cities, an upset victory by ETSU tomorrow would not be viewed as some sort of historic stepping stone for an athletic program to advance along the lines of so many of their one-time peers, and with that advancement for their own community, but instead just a tragic loss for the Vols.

Sad, isn’t it?

That’s failing to see the whole picture.

Of course, the whole picture is also that if ETSU were somehow to win the game, they would probably be without their head coach in a short period of time. Randy Sanders, the Vols’ former offensive coordinator, would almost assuredly become the Tennessee head football coach in short order. The only question would be if it was next week or after the season.

That’s what happens when one school can afford to pay a head football coach roughly seven times more than the other.

Sometimes, it seems, you can’t win for trying.

Marky Billson hosts Tri-Cities Sports NOW on 1420 NBC Sports Radio Tri-Cities 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays. Click the link to listen live, or go here or here to watch archived.

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