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Big 12 stadium wars seek to win more fans

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Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 2:16 pm | Updated: 2:20 pm, Tue Sep 25, 2012.

Major college athletic directors like to talk about how their departments are the “front porch“ of the universities they represent.

These days, those figurative front porches are glistening new or refurbished football stadiums with collective costs well above $1 billion across the state, from Texas to Texas A&M, Baylor to TCU, UTEP to Rice.

Never mind that the nation’s economy is still considered to be down - shovel-ready athletic projects and construction upgrades are popping up everywhere, especially in Texas and around the Big 12 Conference.

TCU celebrated the debut of a remade Amon Carter Stadium earlier this month. The original stadium was finished in 1930, named for a media mogul who generously gave to TCU and Texas Tech.

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte noted the coincidence of the economic times - then and now.

“In 1930, we were coming into the Great Depression,“ Del Conte said. “Sometimes you’ve got to revisit history to know where you’re going.“ The remaking of the stadiums, several of which were built as far back as the 1920s, allow schools, big and small, to keep up with a nationwide facilities boom and cement membership in major conferences and their lucrative annual payouts. And athletic directors say that the schools reap major rewards, from more students applying for enrollment to additional free publicity and marketing for the campuses.

Del Conte noted that TCU - a private school - enjoyed a recent spike in enrollment, with 20,000 potential students vying for 1,600 annual spots. It paralleled the Horned Frogs’ recent national successes in football, including a Rose Bowl victory after the 2010 season and admission to the Big 12 starting this season.

Texas State athletic director Larry Ties said a successful football program is a nice selling point to attract students and retain them.

“You need things for students to do,“ Ties said. “The six football Saturdays around here are pretty special.“ Texas A&M, which is studying what to do with Kyle Field, commissioned a media study that showed the Sept. 8 season-opening game against Florida at Kyle Field generated $6.5 million in free national marketing for the school.

Here’s an update of the projects across the state: Texas and Texas Tech already have gone through major stadium expansions, with the last wave of construction coming in 2009.

Texas’ Royal-Memorial Stadium expanded to 100,159 three years ago, making it the sixth-largest college football stadium in the country. It initially was built in 1924 for $275,000, courtesy of donations from alumni and students.

Overall, the University of Texas has spent $450 million to remake its athletic facilities over the last 15 years. Tech, from 1999-09, spent $84 million on its stadium.

TCU and Texas State unveiled drastically redone stadiums on the same Saturday in September.

Bobcat Stadium doubled in size to roughly 33,000 seats at a cost of $34 million.

The Horned Frogs’ remake of Amon Carter, with its 1930s art-deco theme, cost $165 million. TCU used only money from donations to pay for the stadium, with six people giving $15 million each.

Baylor and Houston are two years away from playing in new football arenas.

The Bears had a second ground-breaking ceremony last Saturday at Waco’s Floyd Casey Stadium, although Baylor will play in a new on-campus stadium across town. The cost is estimated at $180 million.

Houston is planning on razing Robertson Stadium and building an arena on the property. The stadium is projected to cost at least $100 million.

Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said his department has consulted with TCU, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Minnesota on the best ways to build a stadium. It’s why McCaw is mostly going the route of the Horned Frogs and marketing “Founders Suites.“ An economic impact study shows that the stadium construction will generate 6,000 jobs.

“This has brought Baylor together,“ McCaw said. “We have broad support.“ Texas A&M, with its move to the Southeastern Conference, hired an architect team to come up with a plan for Kyle Field, which last had a significant face-lift in 1999. The Aggies could remake the old stadium, which has been around in some form since 1904, when horticulture professor Edwin Jackson spent $650 of his own money to a buy a covered grandstand from the Bryan fairgrounds in 1904.

The last major refurbishment 13 years ago cost $33 million. Expect any plan to cost far more.

“We are studying all our options,“ said new A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, who oversaw a construction boom when he was in charge at South Carolina.

A year ago, North Texas opened a new stadium at a cost of $78 million. SMU built a new stadium in 2000. And Rice has added a new surface and scoreboard to its stadium.

Fledging Texas-San Antonio, which is in its first year of Football Bowl Subdivision play, is playing at the Alamodome, which is relatively new at 19 years old. And back then, the stadium was built for $186 million.

Building or upgrading stadiums is costly, but stadiums can be tremendous money-making investments.Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said that back in the 1990s, he considered whether the athletic department should invest its money in an endowment or place it into construction projects.

“People who put money in investments lost about 30 percent,“ Dodds said.

He said Texas’ net annual revenue generated by the suites at Royal-Memorial Stadium is $10 million. That doesn’t include income from additional seats. Royal-Memorial has expanded by more than 23,000 seats since the Big 12 started play in 1996.

“The bottom line, it needed a face-lift,“ Dodds said. “The stadium hadn’t been renovated since the ’60s and ’70s. You have to stay current, keep the fans happy and stay up to date.“

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BIG 12 CONSTRUCTION

Every Big 12 school has athletic construction projects going on: Baylor: Finished an equestrian center, built an indoor tennis complex, touched up its baseball stadium, and is building a new football stadium.

Iowa State: Building a student center, building a football and basketball practice/training areas, building a sports complex for softball, track and soccer, and refurbishing the football stadium and basketball arena.

Kansas: Recently finished refurbishments to indoor track and baseball stadiums.

Kansas State: Refurbishing the football stadium and building a basketball practice facility.

Oklahoma: Working on a dorm that will house all Sooners athletes as well as some students.

Oklahoma State: Building an indoor football practice area.

Texas: Building an indoor tennis facility, recently moved all athletic offices to the new north end zone of the football stadium.

TCU: Finished a major football stadium renovation and next will redo the basketball arena.

Texas Tech: Building an indoor soccer training facility and just completed a golf clubhouse.

West Virginia: Finished a basketball practice facility and is fundraising for a baseball stadium.

BIG 12 STADIUMS

School Football stadium Built Surface Capacity

Baylor Floyd Casey Stadium 1950 artificial 50,000

Iowa State Jack Trice Stadium 1975 grass 55.000

Kansas Memorial Stadium 1921 artificial 52,530

Kansas State Bill Snyder Fam. Football Stadium 1968 artificial 50,000

Oklahoma Gaylord Family-Okla. Memorial Stadium 1923 grass 82,112

Oklahoma St. Boone Pickens Stadium 1920 artificial 60,218

Texas Royal-Memorial Stadium 1924 artificial 100,119

TCU Amon G. Carter Stadium 1930 grass 45,000

Texas Tech Jones AT&T Stadium 1947 artificial 60,454

West Virginia Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium 1980 artificial 60,000

OLDEST STADIUMS

School Opened (age)

Oklahoma State 1920 (92)

Kansas 1921 (91)

Oklahoma 1923 (89)

Texas 1924 (88)

TCU 1930 (82)

Texas Tech 1947 (65)

Kansas State 1968 (44)

Baylor 1950 (62)

Iowa State 1975 (37)

West Virginia 1980 (32)

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