It was after the 1996 Cotton Bowl, a somber 38-6 loss to Colorado, that the fortunes (literally) of the University of Oregon changed forever. It was 19 years ago, not a quick turnaround, that the commitment was made by the University to be more than it was, both on and off the field of play.
If you build it, they will come. But you need money before you can put a shovel in the ground. That was what started the movement at Oregon -- getting the money and starting to build. Look at what has happened in Eugene since 1996:
Autzen Stadium was built in 1967 for a mere $2.5 million. In 2002 it underwent a $90 million facelift that added 12,000 seats and 32 luxury boxes to the stadium. It also addressed restroom needs and concession facilities, a 10,000-square foot entertainment center (Club at Autzen), and it widened walkway and concourse areas to better accommodate the increased capacity to 54,000. Hmmm, sounds like what RU did with the "fan oriented" things at HSS.
Matthew Knight Arena opened in 2011 with a capacity of 12,364. It is a beautiful facility that serves the basketball teams as well as being a concert/event venue. The RAC was opened in 1977. It is not a beautiful facility. Let's move on....
Built at a cost of $19.2 million, PK Park is a 4,000 seat ballpark that opened in 2009. In 2013 it added a Player Development Area with four full batting cages that can be divided into eight cages. Bainton Field has bleachers, got turf in 2007, and after this spring season, a new indoor practice facility will be constructed for baseball and softball.
I don't even think I have to go into much detail here. They were the first and they still do it best. Like'em or not. They are flashy and modern and reflect the speed with which the Ducks play. And it, too, goes back to that 1996 Cotton Bowl. From a USA Today article last month:
Not long after speaking to Bellotti on New Year's Day in 1996, Knight called a meeting with four of his most trusted and valued executives. Tinker Hatfield, Nike's vice president for design and special projects, said he remembers it well.
"He simply said, 'I want you guys to come up with some ideas on how we can help the University of Oregon improve the ability to recruit better student-athletes for the football program,'" Hatfield recalled. "He asked us all to come back in a week with ideas."
Hatfield presented a bold vision: space-age uniforms that could help drive the rebranding of Oregon football.
Which brings us to.....
A willingness to get it done
I could go on about facilities but by this time, sharp objects are already being taken away from Dave White. And the uniforms attract everyone's attention. But clearly money made all this possible, and more importantly, private money. As noted in yesterday's story, the UO Foundation created LLCs to build many of these facilities, thus removing debt - or the need to go into debt - from the University's shoulders. However, the debt to build is still carried on the University's books as data from the Knight Commission illustrates:
Compared to its peers in the Pac 12, Oregon's total debt is almost six times that of the conference's median. And it's almost twice that of the median of the B1G. Rutgers' athletic debt is wrapped up solely in the 2009 football stadium expansion. And overall spending per athlete at Oregon is significantly higher than the median in the B1G, the Pac 12, or for Rutgers. Oregon was willing to spend to make things happen.
Data Source: Knight Commission Athletic & Academic Spending Database for NCAA Division I. (2013). Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. www.knightcommission.org. Athletics Data Source: USA TODAY's NCAA Athletics Finance Database.
Tomorrow: How far are we willing, and able, to go? A look at where the money comes from and defining a ceiling for Rutgers athletics.
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This is part three of a four-part series on Rutgers Athletics. Stay tuned each day until the series is complete:
Part I: What is the ceiling for Rutgers?