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.