KNOXVILLE – Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) made a poorly-kept secret official on Monday morning at a press conference held at the racetrack known as the “World’s Fastest Half Mile.”
The Vols and Hokies will play at the speedway on Sept. 10, 2016 in front of what is expected to be the largest crowd ever at a football game. BMS holds approximately 160,000 spectators for races and the football game attendance is estimated to be around 150,000, according to a press release put out by BMS. The current football attendance record sits at 115,109, the announced attendance at last month’s Michigan-Notre Dame game.
The event has been dubbed the “Battle at Bristol.”
“I’ve been part of a lot of big games but nothing rises to the level we’re talking about here,” said Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart. “It’s the perfect match. Even though it’s taken some 17 years, I feel very privileged to be a part of it.”
• Largest college football crowd: 115,109 (2013...Notre Dame at Michigan)
• Largest NFL crowd: 112,376 (1994...Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Oilers in Mexico City)
• Largest crowd at Neyland Stadium: 109,061 (2004...Florida at Tennessee)
The 17 years comment is in a reference to the nearly two-decade discussion of this possibility. Fans, school administrators and coaches have tossed around the idea of this neutral site battle between the schools which are approximately four hours away from each other and around two hours each away from the track, but just in the past year were the three sides able to put together a package that was ideal for all three parties.
"There has always been a desire by fans to see a football game at our historic Speedway," said Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports. "We couldn't be more excited to turn this long-time rumor into a reality and to provide sports fans with an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of the biggest college football game ever."
“To make this a reality, to be part of football history is very important to our university and our student athletes,” added Tennessee coach Butch Jones, who served as the grand marshal of the Food City 500 held at Bristol last March. "I’m extremely excited.”
To accommodate the 2016 matchup with Virginia Tech, Tennessee has moved its previously-scheduled, two-year series (2016, 2017) with Nebraska back a decade to 2026-2027. The Vols are also scheduled to play Connecticut in 2016 on Sept. 3. The SEC schedule for that season isn’t out yet.
Tennessee-Alabama TV/time set: In much more immediate future scheduling news, the SEC announced that Tennessee will play Alabama next Saturday, Oct. 26, at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
This is the third time the Vols have been featured as the SEC Game of the Week on CBS. Tennessee’s games against Florida and Georgia were also selected for that TV/time slot.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga