Thursday, March 13, 2008

University Fumbles Stadium Plan

The decision by the University of Memphis to oppose plans for an on-campus stadium felt suspiciously like a well-scripted three-act play.

In the end, the script called for the athletic committee of the Board of Visitors to weigh the merits of the university’s first on-campus stadium and recommend against it. Then, it called for the recommendation to be presented to the university president who accepted and supported it while delivering a speech on academic priorities.

It all felt a little too pat.

Half A Loaf

It was the worst-kept secret on the U of M campus that the administration was lobbying the board of visitors to oppose the stadium proposal, and in the end, the athletic committee of the Board of Visitors unsurprisingly reflected the position of the university administration.

In its final recommendation, the blue-ribbon board of school supporters tried to give all sides half a loaf: Yes, we would love to have an on-campus stadium, but no, not now. In other words, it was a craftily written “no way no how” position.

Unfortunately, we think the feasibility study laid out a practical way to build a stadium, but from the beginning, it appeared that there was nothing that could be done to get administration officials on board with the project.

Holding Pattern

According to athletic director R. C. Johnson, “rather than just say no, there was a feeling of 'Let's just wait for a while and see how things go' and then move forward from now."

It’s the sort of political statement that belies a simple fact of life. If the university gets into a holding pattern, city government will refurbish the Liberty Bowl and the pressure on U of M to support that facility will keep the U of M there for decades.

It’s a familiar position for our university, because for decades, it has set aside its own institutional needs in order to support local governments’ investments in arenas and stadia. By the way, the university has no more obligation to build a stadium that meets city government’s needs than local government had when it added 3,000 more seats in The Pyramid than the U of M wanted or needed.

Extra Effort

Meanwhile, President Shirley Raines said that unmet construction needs for academic buildings should be the university’s priority. We can’t imagine that there’s anybody that would disagree with that, but funds for a stadium and funds for academic buildings come from different sources.

Rather than simply throw up questions about the feasibility of the sponsorship amounts and the feasibility report assumptions, it seems worth the extra effort to really find out if there is the potential to put together a financing plan and potential commitments needed to build a stadium.

On balance, it’s hard to argue with on-campus stadium booster Harold Byrd that this is a golden opportunity that may not come again soon. It really doesn’t seem like a waste of time to see if he and other stadium advocates can put the money together.

More Than Victories

We admit that on some of our most pragmatic days, we are drawn to the idea that our university should simply get out of the football business. Our version of successful seasons are built on victories over no-name teams and comes with inconsequential bowl appearances.

That said, it doesn’t take much to see the benefits in other universities from on-campus stadia. That’s why it’s about more than victories on the field, but also about increased vibrancy for our urban university campus and building bonds with fans by bringing them to the university.


Julie said...

thank you for nailing this issue on the head...the whole way the U of M "leadership" handled this smacks of something underhanded.

GoT1G3RS said...

This was a setback to the University which may have dire consequenses for the football program and the school itself moving forward. I believe that the real supporters, fans, and alumni were NEVER really given a fair chance at this. There were at least 4 people on the Board of Visitors with direct or indirect ties to the Fairgrounds redevelopment project. All of them stand to gain from redevelopment of that area. It seems that this was fixed from the get-go. The feasibility report was only a smokescreen to silence the grass-roots effort brought on by the proponents of the OCS.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the feasibility study suposed to be paid for by private donations? Did private donations end up covering the $120,000+ study? I heard there wasn't enough donations to cover it. If that is true, how would the university raise enough money for the stadium when the big OCS supporters couldn't raise the money for the study. I'm an alumni of U of M, but I don't support an OCS.

Julie said...

yes, the feasibility study was paid for with private donations, and there was no shortage.

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