Mullins armed with task of leading ETSU through transitional period

By Wes Holtsclaw

   For East Tennessee State athletics, losing football might not be such a bad thing after all, or could it?
   In one of many visits around the area, ETSU Director of Athletics Dave Mullins spoke to the Elizabethton Rotary Club on Wednesday.
   Mullins, who been busy speaking with alumnus and supporters of Buccaneer athletics since he took his position with the university, touched on several topics at the meeting, including the loss of football, financial gain for other sports and the situation with the Southern Conference.
   "College athletics at some levels are almost like professional sports. Larger colleges make a lot of money. A school down in the road here (Tennessee) brings in over $61 million dollars a year in football, and obviously that helps fund everything else," Mullins said referring to the football cut.
   He mentioned that ticket sales under $100,000 among state costs led to the cutting of the program. The university is also $400,000 per year short of the required Title IX funding to get equal support for women's sports.
   "We all enjoy good athletics, but at ETSU, we're not in the business of preparing pro athletes," he said. "We are here to get the students ready for the real world.go, region runner-up Morgan Smith would take her spot if the TSSAA allowed it. The Volunteer standout lost to Campbell 6-4, 6-4 on Monday in the championship.
   "What's important about athletics is what it teaches of real life. You take a group of people with different backgrounds and put them in a team to succeed. They will work together and achieve those goals."
   Mullins points to the success of the athletic programs at ETSU, including the golf, men's basketball and the recently successful softball squad.
   "We have a great golf program here," he said. "We've produced five All-Americans in the last 10 years, competing against million dollar programs.
   "Ed DeChellis did a tremendous job with our basketball team during the last seven years. We only had two academically eligible players when he got here, and he did a good job to get the ETSU name out."
   Mullins mentioned the talk shows and the national recognition ETSU received from its NCAA Tournament squad.
   A question was asked of the forfeiture of all University of Michigan's basketball games during the period of the 'Fab-Five.' The Wolverines defeated ETSU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament during one of those seasons.
   Is there a possibility of a Sweet 16 banner coming to Johnson City?
   "I don't think so, but we've looked into it," joked Mullins. "It will count as a victory, but Michigan gave up all their money and championships during those years. As far as the books go, technically it's not something that could happen."
   Mullins also believes that basketball can be the driving force of the university once football is officially eliminated, while the long-term status of the Memorial Center is still in question.
   "We think that basketball can be the driving force," he said. "It has been the sport people have rallied around and the community has become involved in. But with the possibility of a new arena, obviously they will need some special fundraising efforts. But it will be a while before we address that.
   Many people have questioned whether ETSU will still be allowed to participate in Southern Conference sports after next season once they lose football.
   SoCon bylaws state that each school must sponsor football and men's basketball, plus four other men's sports while women's basketball and volleyball, along with five other women's sports are required.
   "When the conference meets, if we can get three-fourths of the votes, that rule can be overturned or waived," Mullins said. "We're going to present our case for justification, but we're not sure there will be a vote.
   "We will give them our information on other sports, location, media and success and hopefully they'll discuss it."
   The SoCon have admitted basketball-only schools, but VMI's departure was related to losing football games.
   "If we don't stay, there are other conferences that would like to have us," Mullins said. "We're trying to maneuver it and it's where we'd like to stay."