By Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – When John Ingram was hired by Bill Byrne at Nebraska 16 years ago, one of his first projects was developing a “master plan” for the school’s athletic facilities after a section of Memorial Stadium collapsed.
In 1999, a two-year upgrade project saw Nebraska’s football home go from a capacity of 72,700 to 74,056, which included 42 suites, club seating, a new press box, renovated concourses and other improvements. It cost $36 million.
More recently, Nebraska’s built the Osborne Athletic Complex – which houses the football team’s locker room, strength complex, athletic medicine, and coaches’ offices – and Hawks Championship Center, an indoor practice facility.
The school now boasts one of the nation’s top athletic facilities.
Taking it all in during a visit in June was Mississippi State athletics director Greg Byrne, son of Bill Byrne, who’s now AD at Texas Aamp&M. Accompanying the younger Byrne was MSU president Dr. Mark Keenum, football coach Dan Mullen, baseball coach John Cohen, and other MSU officials.
Over three days, the contingent visited six schools, including Arkansas, Baylor, Missouri, Oregon and Oregon State.
The goal: Gather as much information as possible as MSU puts together its own master plan for facilities.
From what Ingram can tell, Byrne & Co. are taking the right approach.
“They’re not just jumping in and doing a project, they’re taking their time, they’re looking at peer institutions as far as what they’ve done and what their process was,” he said.
Byrne does not want a quick-fix solution, because that’s neither wise nor feasible. He wants MSU’s athletic facilities to have what he calls “connectivity” – that is, he wants each stadium and building to be congruous in design with each other and with the rest of campus.
Proximity is important, too, which is why the new Templeton Athletic Academic Center was built between the football practice complex and the baseball field, and not far from the basketball arena.
“Dr. Keenum wants it to be a master plan with lots of connectivity with the rest of the university, and he’s 100 percent right on that,” Byrne said. “That will give us an opportunity to really work with our themes and have some consistency throughout campus in the look and feel of our facilities.”
Paying for the plan
This master plan of which Byrne and Keenum speak is still being hammered out. Once it is complete, Byrne said it will take about a year for the plan to be put into motion.
The university is currently in negotiations with “a preferred company,” as Byrne put it, to help it build the master plan.
What will the plan entail? Well, that’s what MSU is trying to figure out, but Byrne has some ideas: Adding more high-end seating at Dudy Noble Field; upgrading the football locker room at Davis Wade Stadium.
A couple of projects nearly ready to start are an $11.5 million basketball practice facility and a $3.2 million track and field facility. MSU’s already spent nearly $2 million in recent months on various projects.
One of the obvious questions is: How does MSU plan to pay for all this?
MSU is using CSL, out of Dallas, to conduct a market survey to see “what the market will support,” Byrne said. “And in time we’ll have to look to see if we can do some bonding. And please include this, we are nowhere near being ready to begin serious discussion about bonds.
“A capital campaign will be part of that, absolutely.”
A school with a budget the size of Mississippi State’s – it’ll be around $40 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year, which began July 1 – has to watch every penny. Budget size had a lot to do with the schools Byrne picked to tour.
Oregon State, which had a $47 million budget last year, has increased capacity of its football stadium by 11,000 over the last three years – to 45,674 – and plans to add nearly 10,000 more seats during the next two phases of a three-phase plan.
So far, direct construction cost is at about $85 million, with about a third of that paid for from private donations. The rest was bonded.
The problem OSU is running into is that its taxing a relatively small donor base. John Cheney, associate AD for event management, said the school is trying to turn smaller donors into bigger ones and then trying to find more small donors.
The approach is a product of the philosophy of athletics director Bob De Carolis: “Share the pain.”
Byrne too is trying to find more donations. The Bulldog Club membership is currently more than 8,000 strong.
“Now what we have to get better at is the major gifts on the capital side,” he said, “and we’re going to get ourselves organized better on that in the next year, too.”
Making the connection
Besides aesthetic and functional connectivity of facilities, there is the question of whether nicer digs directly affect a program’s ability to win.
It’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg question.
“It’s little bit of which comes first, but for us definitely building the indoor practice facility has probably been our biggest thing,” said Oregon State’s Cheney. “That allowed baseball and softball to practice indoors during the wet months of January and February. It allowed our football team more opportunities to practice.”
OSU has become a more well-rounded athletic program:
– Its baseball team won back-to-back College World Series titles (2006 and 2007).
– The football squad went 9-4 last season and has earned a bowl berth six of the last seven years.
– Under first-year coach Craig Robinson – brother-in-law of President Obama – the Beavers’ basketball team improved by 12 wins, going 18-18 and winning the College Basketball Invitational.
It’s the kind of competitiveness that Byrne and his coaches want to see throughout the MSU athletic department. That goes for on the field, on the court and in the stadium. And it goes for the fields, the courts, the stadiums themselves.
“If you aren’t constantly paying attention to who you’re competing against, you’re not going to be able to make proper adjustments as we need,” Byrne said. “And as I’ve said before, we can’t be out-worked, we can’t be out-hustled.”
– Recent, present and future athletic facility projects at Mississippi State, with approximate costs:
* Templeton Athletic Academic Center (2008): $11 million
* Football video board (2008): $6.1 million
* Soccer facility upgrade (2008): $700,000
* Women’s basketball locker room upgrade (2009): $605,000
* Volleyball floor resurfaced (2009): $20,000
* Baseball, softball fields re-landscaping, drainage: $660,000
* Davis Wade Stadium, repainting east side: $230,000
* Davis Wade Stadium, new exterior, interior signage: $170,000
* Baseball locker room upgrade: $100,000
* Basketball floor resurfacing: $20,000
* Basketball practice facility: $11.5 million
* New track facility: $3.2 million
Source: MSU athletic department
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal