TSU to let public decide — for a price — issue of on-campus football

Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 11:21pm

Tennessee State’s Hale Stadium hasn’t hosted a football game in 13 years.

A vote could change that.

TSU Interim President Portia H. Shields announced Thursday that the Tigers plan to play three games at the on-campus facility in 2012 as part of the school’s centennial celebration. They currently play their home games four miles away at LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans.

Between now and the homecoming game on Nov. 12, TSU students, fans, alumni and anyone else can vote on the future of Hale Stadium — for $10, which will go directly to student scholarships.

“I am very confident [of football coming back to campus] but that was the way I was raised to believe. I definitely think it is going to happen,” Shields said. “I just needed to take advantage of people’s opinions to help our students in the scholarship way. I’m prepared to take it on the chin if that happens.”

To play football at Hale next year, renovations would cost $1.45 million, which the university already has saved through internal funds.

Immediate renovations would include power washing and painting, tearing down the old ROTC building at the main entrance, adding temporary restrooms and concessions stands along with adding grandstand seats.

Hale Stadium, which the football team still uses for practices, currently seats 12,000.

Eventually, TSU administrators want the 58-year-old stadium to reach a capacity of 27,000, which would cost about $27 million, according to Ron Brooks, TSU’s associate vice president for facilities management. But a timeline has not been set for that expansion and would depend on internal and external funds.

TSU athletics director Teresa Phillips added that the student government recently approved a student stadium fee. 

“Having your own stadium is always better,” Phillips said. “But I want to make sure it is a stadium we can recruit people to. It is a stadium in which we can have our longtime fans be comfortable in and all the amenities they deserve are available to them. ... Moving forward we have to make sure that it is a stadium that meets standards of a [Football Championship Subdivision] school that is trying to go somewhere.”

TSU will continue to play the annual John Merritt Classic and its homecoming at LP Field. That contest has drawn more than 20,000 fans the last couple years. For Ohio Valley Conference games, though, the Tigers are fortunate to get 8,000 in the cavernous stadium, which has a capacity of 68,798.

“To me it feels like a neutral zone,” redshirt-freshman quarterback Michael German said. “The stadium is so big that when you look up, you can’t feel that half our fans are in the stadium.”

Phillips believes LP Field remains a recruiting tool. German, a native of Florida, admits playing in an NFL stadium factored into his decision to play for TSU.

But Hale Stadium, known as 'The Hole,' has its own history, which also could attract future Tigers. Many NFL greats, such as Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Richard Dent, played there for the Tigers. TSU also captured 10 Midwest Conference championships and enjoyed 10 undefeated seasons.

“This is a special place,” coach Rod Reed said. “My father played in this stadium. I played in this stadium. So we’re real excited about having the opportunity to play a couple games down here. I’ve heard from a lot of alumni that really want to get back to that 'Hole.' Now it is like put up or shut up. It will be a great thing for our alumni to be able to rise to the occasion and say, ‘Hey, this is something we really want to do.’ I think it will be great for out students. I think it will be great for the TSU family and the community.”

Anyone can vote by texting either HaleYEAH or HaleNOPE to 20222. Shields added that a call center also will be available.

An announcement will be made the week after the homecoming game against Tennessee-Martin. If fans vote in favor bringing football back, Phillips said renovations would begin by the end of November.

“I will probably vote five or six times,” German said. “The word I heard from alumni and other players who have played on the field, they said it is the biggest experience they ever had. They even had people that played in the NFL and big scenes and they said nothing was better than playing in The Hole.”