WVU Investing in its Athletic Future
In the not-to-distant future, you are going to be seeing a lot more construction going on around campus.
Evansdale is currently being transformed into a small city with a half dozen new buildings either under construction or about to be constructed. And the small city we already have downtown is also experiencing a revival with such noteworthy projects underway as the University Place and College Park redevelopment.
Now, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is planning to add to the local economy with several public and private construction projects on tap in the coming years. The total scope is still in the planning stages, but it will amount to approximately $106 million when all of the various funding sources are combined, not including the new ballpark currently under construction at the University Town Centre.
Making this all possible is West Virginia’s recent move to the Big 12 Conference and the additional revenue the athletic department will be receiving when its full conference share goes into effect.
“The real impetus came when we joined the Big 12 and we began realizing that, though we had nice facilities - and we still do in many cases - we are now competing against the very best in the country,” said West Virginia University Director of Athletics Oliver Luck.
The guaranteed dollars West Virginia receives from the Big 12 Conference, as well as its multimedia rights deal with IMG College, enable the athletic department to today consider projects that were once unattainable.
“The guaranteed part is the important thing,” Luck explained. “(Media rights and conference revenue sharing) are the two areas that we can control, to a certain degree, for the next 10-12 years.”
Site work has already begun on the new $21 million ballpark at the University Town Centre in Granville, making it just the third competition venue the athletic department has constructed since 1981 when Luck was still quarterbacking the Mountaineers (the other two are the Mountaineer Tennis Courts and Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium).
The majority of the funding for the baseball project is coming from the ballpark TIF, and when completed, it has the potential to completely transform that part of Monongalia County.
Over at the Milan Puskar Center, the Mountaineer Athletic Club is finalizing the private funding needed to build a sorely needed new team room facility for the Mountaineer football players and staff. That project is expected to get underway in the near future.
With the exception of Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium (constructed in 2004) and the Mountaineer Tennis Courts (moved to the back side of the Shell Building in the late 1990s) all of West Virginia’s competition venues are at least 30 years old, which is considered ancient in this day and age of collegiate competition.
WVU is surrounded by impressive new facilities at Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland, Virginia, Louisville, and, yes, even Pitt, not to mention what the rest of the Big 12 is doing these days.
Baylor will open brand new $260 million McClane Stadium on its campus this fall to replace 64-year-old Floyd Casey Stadium.
Iowa State recently completed $21 million in renovations to its football stadium with an additional $25 million now in place to enclose the south end zone.
Kansas State last year wrapped up $75 million worth of improvements to Bill Snyder Family Stadium and $125 million in total athletic facility improvements to date (with $50 million in additional improvements to the football stadium just recently announced), while Oklahoma State has spent several hundred million on its athletic facilities through the generosity of billionaire benefactor T. Boone Pickens, including a recent $55 million upgrade to Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Texas has started a feasibility study to enclose the south end of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium – this in response to Texas A&M’s planned renovation of Kyle Field that will increase its seating capacity to 102,500, or 2,500 more than the current capacity of Texas Memorial Stadium.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said last summer that more improvements are on the way for 82,000-seat Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Texas Tech recently completed major facility renovations to its football-training complex, located next to Jones AT&T Stadium, and Kansas is also contemplating improvements to Memorial Stadium.
Even TCU, which has yet to receive a full share of Big 12 revenue like West Virginia, recently finished $164 million worth of improvements to football’s Amon G. Carter Stadium through private funding sources. TCU has now started on significant improvements to basketball’s Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
West Virginia University athletics is in a tenuous position because of the advanced age of its two most prominent athletic facilities - 44-year-old WVU Coliseum and 34-year-old Milan Puskar Stadium - and how those two venues stack up against the other nine facilities in the Big 12 these days.
When West Virginia was in the Big East, the Coliseum and Milan Puskar Stadium were considered among the best on-campus facilities in the conference, but now in the Big 12, they rank anywhere from the middle to the bottom in amenities and overall fan experience.
“I think our coaches, student-athletes and fans who travel to different places go ‘wow.’ You take Gallagher-Iba Arena (Oklahoma State’s men’s and women’s basketball facility), it’s a historical venue but they’ve updated it beautifully,” said Luck. “You look at Texas football or Baylor football. Baylor’s new football stadium will be the next big thing everyone will be talking about.”
The concourses at Milan Puskar Stadium and the Coliseum are woefully inadequate and are in need of immediate attention, according to Luck, who saw firsthand what Iowa State was able to do with Jack Trice Stadium, a facility very similar to Milan Puskar Stadium.
“We went out there two years ago and I thought to myself ‘this is exactly what we need to do with Milan Puskar Stadium,’” said Luck. The athletic director has been down in the stadium concourse many times during home football games and he understands how tight it can become on both sides, especially at halftime. “You can barely walk with a soda pop without spilling it on someone.”
Luck also sees a dire need for improvements at the WVU Coliseum, particularly on its main concourse where fans congregate in narrow hallways and share bathroom stalls that were built for the early-1970s sports fan. The Coliseum is presently 102 units short of restroom requirements for a building of its capacity.
“We need more restrooms and we need to improve the concession areas,” Luck noted.
There are also issues that must be dealt with at the Shell Building (used by women’s track and rifle for competition), the 39-year-old WVU Natatorium used for men’s and women’s swimming, the outdoor track and tennis courts, and even 10-year-old Dick Dlesk Stadium, which presently does not have a visiting locker room.
“Unfortunately, there are more projects than we have money for at this point,” Luck admitted.
But the plan is to begin chipping away at them through the facility construction bond that was recently approved by the West Virginia University Board of Governors. It is Luck’s hope that some of the most pressing needs can be addressed “in the next three-to-four years.”
With conference monies and a media rights agreement now in place, Luck says the athletic department can begin allocating more of its resources to ticket sales and fundraising.
Today, the athletic department’s yearly budget is roughly $75 million, with that figure expected to swell to approximately $100 million by 2021 when the Big 12 pays out as much as $34 million in yearly revenue to its member institutions. Compare that to the summer of 2010 when West Virginia’s athletic budget was in the mid-50s when Luck began his tenure at WVU.
What is being contemplated today in terms of facility improvements is not really new to athletics, the department once using some of the extra money it received when it joined the Big East to improve its practice venues in the late 1990s, although not quite to the scale being considered today.
And what is taking place these days in college athletics is a fact of life – competing schools are constantly seeking bigger and better venues to attract the best student-athletes in the country. West Virginia University must do what it can to keep pace, and Luck believes his department is now in a position to put forth a fiscally responsible plan that will place WVU on much firmer ground in the coming years.
“There will be a lot of construction work going on between our two locations at football and the Coliseum complex in the coming years,” he predicted.
That’s welcome news for Mountaineer fans everywhere.
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