The Owls will face off with East Tennessee State for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Sept. 3, 2015 — a Thursday — in what will be the first game for both of the startups.
The announcement was made by representatives from both schools Thursday on the ETSU camps.
“This is unbelievable,” Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon said, standing behind a countdown clock that read 656 days until kickoff. “On the ride over here, I had a little knot in my stomach. It made me feel like it was an away game.”
This will be the first of a home-and-home series between the Owls and Buccaneers, who will make the return trip to Kennesaw to play the 2016 home opener at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.
Bohannon’s ETSU counterpart, Carl Torbush, said this will be a unique game that will not only have regional interest, but could draw national attention as well. He said it isn’t often that two start-up programs have an opportunity to begin against one another, and it will offer an immediate litmus test.
“Usually, a new program will schedule either a money game, where a team pays to beat you, or a game you know you should win,” said Torbush, a longtime college assistant who also spent three years as North Carolina’s head coach from 1997-2000. “But when you do that, you don’t know how good or how bad you are. Here, we have two schools that mirror each other. It should be a close ball game.
“(This game) will let us know where we are. It will let us know how our recruiting is going and where we have to improve.”
This first meeting will take place a few miles north of the ETSU campus at 8,500-seat Kermit Tipton Stadium, on the campus of Science Hill High School. Kennesaw State is expected to get at least 250 tickets to sell for that first game, but that number could be negotiated as game day draws nearer.
ETSU, which is bringing back football after disbanding the program in 2003, is about to begin construction on a 10,000- to 12,000-seat campus stadium that could be ready for the 2017 season.
With that in mind, ETSU athletic director Richard Sander said he would not mind having a long-term contract with Kennesaw State, with the Owls possibly being the Bucs’ first opponent in their campus stadium.
“I think it would be great,” Sander said. “Why wouldn’t we play?”
Kennesaw State athletic director Vaughn Williams said the fledgling rivalry has potential, and it makes sense considering both schools are currently Atlantic Sun Conference rivals in every other sport.
As for football, KSU will become an associate football member of the Big South, while East Tennessee State will leave the A-Sun for the Southern Conference — the university’s previous home when it still had football — in time for the 2014-15 academic year.
“It’s a definite possibility,” Williams said. “Potentially, it’s a school you’d want to play.”
As for the rest of Kennesaw State’s schedule, Williams said most of the games have been agreed to, but no contracts have been finalized.
The rest of the Owls’ inaugural schedule will include six Big South games and likely five home games. Those opponents will likely vary in level from the FCS to NAIA.
Williams said the remainder of the schedule will likely be announced next month.
“It’s here and it’s real,” Williams said. “Are you ready for some football?”