BRISTOL, Tenn. — Tennessee and Virginia Tech will finally play a football game at Bristol Motor Speedway and expect to set a single-game football attendance record in what is being billed as the “Battle at Bristol.”
Track and officials from both universities formally announced the plans Monday amid confetti and fireworks during a festive news conference at the 52-year-old racetrack. The game is scheduled for Sept. 10, 2016.
“I full well believe we’ll play in front of the largest crowd to ever watch or have watched a football game — that’s college and pro,” Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said.
Bristol Motor Speedway general manager and executive vice president Jerry Caldwell said seating capacity for the game would be in excess of 150,000. The track sits nearly halfway between the campuses of the two schools, off Interstate 81 in Tennessee.
The NCAA-recognized attendance record for college football of 115,109 was set last month at Michigan Stadium for Michigan-Notre Dame.
Bristol’s proximity to both campuses made this event a rumored possibility since the 1990s. Weaver remembers discussing it with former Volunteers athletic directors Doug Dickey and Mike Hamilton.
Caldwell said track officials explored the feasibility of a game again early this year. He then approached Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart and Weaver.
After all that talking and speculation, the game’s finally going to happen. Weaver said the game is “a reality that’s as big as anything that’s happened in the world of football.”
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer drove on the Bristol speedway as part of a charity celebrity race in 2009 and remembers sitting in the Bristol bleachers watching races as a high school student.
“Next to Lane Stadium, this is my favorite sports venue, I promise you,” Beamer said.
To accommodate a football field, the speedway will need modifications, some of which will happen as soon as next year, Caldwell said. A massive video board that sits atop a pylon in the middle of the infield will be taken out, Caldwell said.
“Screens will be added inside the facility so everyone can still see everything,” he said.
Bristol is scheduled to host NASCAR races just two weeks before this football game. Only until after that’s complete can the football field be installed, with 8,500 tons of rock as its base.
Then there is the matter of fans in the stands being close enough to the field to be able to tell what is going on down there. Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, which holds more than 102,000, would fit inside Bristol Motor Speedway.
Arkansas AD to lead committee
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long will be the first chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Long is among five current athletic directors, along with West Virginia’s Oliver Luck, Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez, Clemson’s Dan Radakovich and Southern California’s Pat Haden on the committee.
Also on the committee are: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; retired Lt. Gen Michael Gould; former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese; former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne; former Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington coach Tyrone Willingham; former NFL and Mississippi quarterback Archie Manning; former NCAA vice president Tom Jernstedt; and former college sports writer Steve Wieberg.
The committee will pick the four teams to play in the national semifinals in the new postseason system that will replace the Bowl Championship Series after this season. The winners will play about a week later for the national championship.