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UT, Va. Tech could smash attendance records at BMS

October 10th, 2013 7:15 am by Evan Woodbery, Knoxville News Sentinel

UT, Va. Tech could smash attendance records at BMS

In this Aug. 25, 2012, file photo, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race is run at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. (AP Photo/CIA Bristol Motor Speedway, Andrew Coppley, Pool, File)

Tennessee will play Virginia Tech in 2016 in a football game that could shatter every major attendance record for team sports in the United States.

The long-discussed meeting at Bristol Motor Speedway is expected to be officially announced on Monday at the facility. The speedway has scheduled a news conference at 11 a.m. to make a “major announcement.”

ESPN’s Joe Schad and CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman tweeted the news of the game nearly simultaneously on Wednesday. Neither Tennessee nor Virginia Tech would confirm the report.

The speedway, one of stock car racing’s most revered tracks, seats 160,000 fans and could presumably add more in temporary bleachers if necessary.

But the configuration of the track for football was one of many hurdles that have thwarted the game since the idea was first floated more than a decade ago.

In 2005, track CEO Bruton Smith publicly offered the schools $20 million each to play the game, but it never came to fruition.

The track in Bristol, Tenn., is equidistant from both campuses, about 120 miles away. Despite their proximity, Virginia Tech and Tennessee haven’t played in the regular season since 1937. Tennessee beat the Hokies in the 1994 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., while Tech won the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.

It’s not clear how the meeting with Virginia Tech would affect Tennessee’s previously scheduled non-conference games, if at all.

Tennessee is scheduled to play at Nebraska on Sept. 10, 2016, with a return game in Knoxville a year later. The Vols are scheduled to play host to Connecticut on Sept. 3, 2016, after playing a game in East Hartford, Conn., in 2015.

If the SEC expands to nine regular-season games, that would leave the Vols a challenging non-conference slate in 2016, which would be coach Butch Jones’ fourth year at UT.

Jones served as the grand marshal of the Food City 500 in Bristol in February.

It’s unclear how the track would be renovated to accommodate a football game. Smith earlier had promised that buildings could be torn down — “We’ll level the place” — if the two teams would agree to a game.

Neutral-site football games have grown in popularity in recent years, although this would be the first played at a racetrack.

Northwestern played Illinois at Wrigley Field in 2010. The NHL also holds an annual winter classic in which hockey games are played at outdoor football or baseball venues.

But the attendance at a game in Bristol would dwarf all other nontraditional venues and would offer Jones, ever mindful of recruiting, a spot on the national stage.

Michigan holds the single-game attendance record with 115,109 fans at a game against Notre Dame last month.

Beyond that, finding the record for a non-racing, single-game team sport is more elusive.

Some reports suggest Brazil’s Maracanã Stadium drew nearly 200,000 fans for a World Cup match in 1950. Several soccer matches in England have drawn more than 100,000.

Tennessee and Virginia Tech could soon have a spot in the record book.

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