JOHNSON CITY - Donors have met East Tennessee State University's initial fund-raising goal for reviving its football program.
ETSU President Paul Stanton announced Tuesday that coffers had reached his $300,000 goal two weeks ahead of his deadline.
"Our alumni and community supporters have certainly sent a clear message by meeting our $300,000 goal with two weeks to spare," Stanton, who had set a March 31 deadline, said in a news release. "As our students prepare to vote on a new athletic fee later this spring, it is obvious that many people who support ETSU are behind this effort and wish to see it succeed.
"As I said in December, we still have a long way to go before we reach the end zone, but we've certainly moved the ball with this announcement."
The Buccaneer football team played its last down in 2003 after Stanton ended the program for financial reasons. Based on a task force's recommendations, Stanton agreed in December to revive play in 2010 pending a possible influx of cash from student fees and donors.
ETSU students are scheduled to vote April 10-11 on a referendum about a fee increase phased in over time to support football. If students approve the measure, ETSU would forward the fee increase to its governing body, the Tennessee Board of Regents, for consideration in June.
Football's fate also would depend on the university's ability to raise $15 million in private donations for a new stadium by next summer and $1 million in annual donor support for football operations and gender equity scholarship requirements.
Some 390 donors contributed to the campaign's initial goal, which Stanton said sent a message to students ahead of April's referendum.
ETSU Athletic Director Dave Mullins said he was encouraged by the public's response to Stanton's charge.
"Meeting this goal is a positive first step," Mullins said in the news release. "We should be encouraged by the number of individual donors who have responded so quickly.
"This allows us to move to the next step of the process and should encourage our students to realize that others are joining their efforts."