Saturday, October 04, 2008

If You Build It, They Will Win?
(Well, the University Will Definitely Win)

I just got home from the UNT football game a little while ago. Like the rest of the games this season so far, it was pretty much a blowout, and this one was even more embarrassing because it came at the hands of Florida International (who?), a team that has won all of three games in its last 29 attempts...but two of them have been against UNT these past two years. Save for the fact that I was hanging out with friends at the "hospitality deck" and the weather was beautiful, this game was not fun at all.

So, considering all the losing that's taken place the past few years, iit might be surprising to hear me coming out in favor of the proposed new football stadium...but that's exactly what I'm doing. According to this North Texas Daily article, the stadium will cost $60 million; private donors are being asked to provide half that amount (and could secure naming rights for a donation of that entire half), and student government has proposed an initiative that will allow students to vote on whether to allow an increased student service fee to foot the other half of the bill.

Obviously, reaction is mixed among the students, and opposing Facebook groups have been formed (with the pro-stadium group outnumbering the anti- group by almost nine to one). Some students have said that any extra money should go to the upgrading of current university facilities, while others point out that few people attend the games anyway.

But would that change if a new stadium was built? I think it would. After all, the current stadium, Fouts Field, is not exactly a drawing card. As head coach Todd Dodge noted in a Morning News story a few weeks ago, :
"Just about every high school at the Class 4A or 5A level in Dallas-Fort Worth has a nicer stadium than we do," he said. "It's time, not only from a recruiting standpoint, but also for fans and alumni."
And he's right. (My own high school's stadium is much nicer than Fouts, despite being built only 14 years later.) Sure, there's a lot of high school football talent in Texas, but which facility will attract more recruits--something like Kyle Field at A&M or Royal-Memorial at UT-Austin, or one where, according to the article, "the field is circled by a track, the locker rooms are terrible, and the atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired[...]UNT officials have to haul in 19 supplemental generators on game days to power the facility and deal with restrooms built for a stadium that seated 20,000 when it opened in 1952. Fouts Field now seats 30,500." The school is outstanding, and Todd Dodge is a stand-up guy (play-by-play announcer George Dunham said this on the postgame show tonight; I worked at KNTU with George, and I don't doubt his word one iota), but a lot of recruits may not be able to get past the 56-year-old white elephant on I-35E.

And even if you think that football is overblown, there's little denying that the exposure brought on by success in this sport can lead to success in other areas of the university as well. Think about some of the powerhouses in the sport at the collegiate level, and think of where they're located. What would bring people to Norman, Oklahoma, or State College, Pennsylvania, or South Bend, Indiana? Or to Lubbock, for that matter? I'm not denigrating these institutions of higher learning in any way, but the fact of the matter is, football helped put them on the map, and the result has been increased school pride, alumni donations and national exposure.

Some have opined that the games would be better-attended if UNT would bring in a better class of opponent (i.e. schools that the average student or alumnus has heard of). But it must be understood that Fouts Field is what is keeping the university from doing just that; few programs of note are interested in even playing there. That means that anytime UNT plays an OU or A&M or UT-Austin, it's on the road, and, while those games bring in a lot of money (largely due to the big gate revenue), there's never the chance for any extra money (hotels, food, entertainment) to be spent in Denton if the games are never held there. It's more than likely that, given a new stadium, UNT could join a conference with the likes of Rice and SMU and build strong intra-state rivalries. But with Fouts, those conferences won't even give the Mean Green the time of day, and we're stuck playing in a conference where the closest schools are in Arkansas and Louisiana and the farthest ones are in Kentucky, Alabama and Florida. Don't misunderstand me--I'm not knocking the quality of the other schools at all; it's just hard to build rivalries with schools that have to be looked up on Mapquest, and the distance makes alumni roadtrips much less likely. (I was talking to one of my friends online before leaving for the game today, and he asked me who UNT was playing, and I honestly had to look it up. Sure, it's easy to mix up Florida International and Florida Atlantic, but I bet that sort of confusion is rare in, say, the Big 12.)

And yes, some will say, UNT already has a world-class College of Music (and as someone who has two degrees from there, my response would be, "well, duhh"), so why do they need to excel at sports? But imagine having double or triple the number of alumni who currently attend games coming to campus on football weekends, spending money in town, eating at a reopened Tomato (hey, we might as well make the dream even more pleasant here). Imagine the endowment of the university growing and many other programs benefiting from this growth. And imagine the opportunity for that many more people to hear a performance from One O'Clock Lab Band on campus, or catching Snarky Puppy at Hailey's, while they're in town. It's a win-win situation; and the team is likely to get even more wins out of the deal, thanks to increased support and bigger, better recruiting classes.

Take a look at the concept rendering of the new stadium. If you're a fellow UNT alum, take several good looks at it, and dream a little bit. This could be a reality in three seasons. And if you're a fence-sitter (especially among the student body), read the talking points and let them sink in (among other things, the new stadium would be "green" in more ways than one). And if you're a student in a position to do so, vote "Yes" on homecoming weekend. As the slogan goes, "The time is now."

UPDATE: I slogged through all 70-something comments to the Daily story linked above, and they give a pretty good representation of the opinions on both sides of the argument. I think one alumnus makes a very good point: The stadium is going to get built eventually, no matter what (if nothing else, after Fouts Field falls down from old age and decrepitude). The question is, would the students like to contribute to a portion of a $60 million stadium now, or a $100 million stadium in ten years?

It should also be noted that, according to the university's master plan, the current site of Fouts will be used for a number of things when a new stadium is built, including more housing and an opera house right next to the Murichison Center. It's not just about football; it's about improving the university as a whole, while getting rid of a piece of infrastructure that's long past its prime and gives the university a black eye in the minds of the thousands of cars who pass Fouts on the freeway every day.


Anonymous said...

"Sports brings in the money"....isn't that the mind set for all schools no matter what education level (hs or college)? So spend the money where it will make money instead of improving what used to be the primary focus of school----educating people to prepare them make their way in the world!
And it seems to me that UNT is trying to get away from their primary population of commuters! Why else would the parking availability steadily decline these past few years? The Health Center got bulldozed and what replaced space. Commuter parking near residence halls became Residence Parking (yeah right, you live on campus so you need have a car and park your car right outside your door so you can get to class on time, causing commuters to have to arrive at campus at 8 a.m. so they will be on time for their 10 a.m. class.

Kev said...

And it seems to me that UNT is trying to get away from their primary population of commuters!

I think that statement is true, but it appears that you see it as a bug, while the university sees it as a feature. From the master plan: "The goal is to maintain the current 65 percent freshmen occupancy level and to increase the representation of upper division students in campus housing. Recommended targets are: increase sophomore representation from 21 percent to 25 percent; junior representation from nine (9) percent to 10 percent and senior from four (4) percent to five (5) percent. Graduate housing should be increased from one (1) percent to five (5) percent of the graduate headcount to address the demand expected as a result of increased research activity and growth in the College of Engineering."

I generally agree that a more resident-oriented population will be a more engaged population (though I'm skeptical with regard to the goal of having more grad students live on campus, unless a dorm specifically geared to them is built), so their support for more people living on campus is understandable in that respect (and it's more environmentally friendly to have fewer car trips back and forth to campus).

But yeah, they've turned former commuter lots into resident lots for a long time now, and former resident lots--like the one to the north of Bruce Hall--became faculty lots as well. We griped about having to park "all the way across the street" when I lived in Bruce and that lot was taken away.

That being said, parking at UNT has been awful for commuters for decades now, and it's probably a given that close-in parking for everyone is not realistic, given the layout of the campus. The master plan does provide for three more parking garages to be built, with a total of 5400 total garage spaces once they're all built in the next decade or so (which probably doesn't help you personally, unless you're going for several degrees).

But that's one more reason to vote for the stadium--the current site of Fouts Field will yield about 2500 parking places (including the garage) when all is said and done, and it makes sense to have more parking closer to the core of campus and the stadium across the freeway.

Kev said...

Oh, and one more thought:

So spend the money where it will make money instead of improving what used to be the primary focus of school----educating people to prepare them make their way in the world!

It seems as though things are going pretty well for most areas of UNT right now, and the places that need new facilities are getting them (the new chemistry building, the future new business building, etc.). If the College of Music were still holding its showcase concerts in the aging Concert Hall (1960) and the ancient Main Auditorium (1924), there would be a cry to build something like the Murchison Center--which happened. Football is "performing" in a 1952 relic that's falling apart and is a source of embarrassment to the entire school, so it's time for money to be spent in that area.

And it needs to be stated again that this money is not being "taken away" from academic departments; it comes from Student Service Fees--the same thing that funds things like the Health Center, KNTU, the Daily, etc.

Anonymous said...

We'll just have to agree to disagree. I'm quite a bit older than you and while I realize change is inevitable I don't think it needs to be done at the expense of the people who are supporting the business. And yes, college education is Big Business. BTW... It's a sad state of affairs when you can go out of state and pay less than you would at a "state U"!!!!