Why is ETSU Subservient to the Tennessee Volunteers?

Marky Billson
5 min readAug 7, 2023

Sure, other SoCon teams live in the shadow of their SEC or ACC brethren. But the Bucs almost seem to exist to be the Vols’ subordinate.

Marky Billson

When it was announced Tennessee’s football game would host East Tennessee State in 2025, one might think the reaction in Johnson City might be one of excitement.

Sure, the Buccaneers beating the Volunteers in football is a longshot, but even if David doesn’t slay Goliath, it’s a chance to play in a great showcase within a couple of hours of home.

But that really isn’t the reaction. The reaction among the Bucs’ fan base is one of impending doom, instead of potential opportunity.

Granted, the Bucs’ 3–8 record last year, combined with a preseason pick for sixth place in the Southern Conference and overall feel last season was more of a trend than a fluke doesn’t merit much hope for an FCS team to beat an FBS program that was briefly ranked №1 in the College Football Playoff Poll last season.

But it’s also because while other Southern Conference teams may live in the shadow of their more renown Division I neighbor, ETSU lives in subservience to the Volunteers.

When these two teams met once before in 2018, then-head coach Randy Sanders said if ETSU were to win he would walk home naked with the goalposts slung over his shoulder.

How inspiring. The game was over before it began after ETSU’s own coach effectively stated his team had no chance.

Is it any wonder the Bucs lost 59–3?

Sanders made no such claim for any other opponent. For that matter, Citadel head coach Mike Houston didn’t make any such comment prior to the Bulldogs’ football game at South Carolina in 2015, which perhaps explains why The Citadel won.

That’s because The Citadel lives in the shadow of the Gamecocks but are not subservient to them. Charleston does not have an inferiority complex to Columbia the way the Tri-Cities do to Knoxville, and Citadel fans don’t have a belief that their athletic department is some sort of feeder system to their neighboring SEC or ACC brethren.

Neither does any other SoCon fan base. When Virginia Military did the unthinkable in 2021 and won the conference…