Excitement mounts

InsideTennessee delivers the goods on Big Orange football. Check out this story on the Vols' unique arrangements for fall camp:

Milligan College has no football program. It has no football field. It has no goal posts. But, for one week in August, it will have a football team. And the people of Elizabethton are thrilled about that.

"I'm excited," said Mark Fox, Milligan's vice president for student development and sports development. "I know our whole campus is excited and our whole community is excited."

That's because the Tennessee Volunteers are coming to town. While their football operations and offices are being moved from the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex into the new Football Training Center, the Vols will set up shop on Milligan's campus Aug. 9-15. They'll practice there, dine there and sleep there.

"The idea that Tennessee would come up here and train is exciting because there are a lot of Tennessee fans here," Fox said. "If we can help them win more football games, that's what we're hoping to do."

Milligan routinely rents out its facilities for summer camps as a way to fund campus improvements.

"We're in the summer-camp business," Fox said. "This summer we'll have 3500 visitors on our campus, spending a night and attending some sort of church camp, sports camp, performing arts camp or academic camp.

"Anything we can do to expose people to our school is a positive. We're a small Christian school looking to meet our mission. Our president made a commitment to helping us improve our athletic facilities and earmark the funds for capital improvements. Without these camps, some of the improvements would have to be delayed or not even done."

When he was initially approached about hosting a week of Tennessee's football camp, Fox immediately jumped on-board.

"My reaction was 'Hey, if we can accommodate you it would be great.' It's good publicity for our school, a chance to create some excitement and a chance to help out Tennessee," he said. "It's a win/win situation, although it will require an adjustment for us."

One adjustment is beefing up security measures to ensure that only invited guests can observe head coach Derek Dooley's closed practices.

"We're developing that plan right now," Fox said. "We don't anticipate a major problem with that. The Carter County Sheriff and the city of Elizabethton are helping us with that plan. We're a private college, so a lot of our campus is restricted-access anyway. Still, there may be some curiosity seekers."

Another adjustment is that Milligan's soccer team must find an off-campus practice alternative during those seven days that the Vols are utilizing both soccer fields. School officials view this as only a minor inconvenience.

"We've had issues before where they've had to make unusual accommodations," Fox said. "The coaches say, 'If that will help our university, then let's do it.' One thing you learn in small-college athletics is that you've got to stay flexible, open-minded and seize the opportunities when they're presented."

Although Milligan has 23 athletics programs competing at the NAIA level, it has no athletics dorms. As a result, Tennessee's players and coaches will be housed in a typical student dormitory.

"We don't have mixed-gender dorms, so they'll be staying in a girls dorm," Fox said. "It's a nice dorm. Everybody's got a semi-private bath. It's comfortable but it's not the Ritz-Carlton by any means."

Likewise, the practice fields aren't Neyland Stadium. Milligan College doesn't even have goal posts for the Vols to use.

"I guess they're bringing their own," Fox said. "I haven't asked but they know we don't have any. And we don't have a weight room big enough to help them, so they're going to bring some supplemental stuff with them."

Milligan College officials see opening their doors to Tennessee as a chance to repay the Vols for some earlier favors.

"Our athletic fields look better than they ever have," Fox said. "A big part of that is Darren Seybold (Tennessee's director of sports surface management) and the folks at UT, who provide expertise that we just don't have. We can start a lawn mower and cut the grass, but they've improved our technology and taught us a variety of things that will benefit our students and student-athletes."

The Vols' week-long stay on Milligan's campus is not rent-free. In addition to the public-relations benefits, Milligan will be compensated financially for the use of its facilities.

"It's creating interest and exposure for us that we can't put a monetary value on," Fox said. "And, once we saw the price tag, we couldn't say no."

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