Thursday, July 14, 2016

Is Maverick Stadium FBS Worthy?

I'm the Maverick Rambler, so prepare for some rambling. It's the doldrums of the summer, so be glad I'm talking about anything UT Arlington-related.

One of the biggest challenges (maybe THE biggest) facing the return of a UTA football program is facilities. That point was made clear in the Nienas Report from over a decade ago-more on that in a moment. Those that I have talked to about the subject believe Maverick Stadium would need a lot of work and that the biggest obstacle to the return of football is a playing venue.

To some degree, I agree. Maverick Stadium was built in 1980 and as far as stadiums go from that era for schools our level, it was nice, but not state of the art. College Park Center is better than any other college basketball venue in Texas, but Maverick Stadium was nice for what it was. It hasn't aged well and the fact that U hasn't played a down in 30 years has meant only minor renovations to the stadium.

But one athletic official described Maverick Stadium to me as a dump. And that's where I disagree. I toured several Southland Conference venues when I was the sports director for UTA Radio back in the day. Texas State, who joined us in moving to the Western Athletic Conference and then the Sun Belt Conference had a worse stadium then than UTA does now. They have spent money and all of a sudden, it is one of the nicer venues in the Group of 5 conferences.

I see no reason why Maverick Stadium can't go through something similar. So with that set-up, here's a list, in order of priority, of the expansion/renovations I think needs to happen in order for Maverick Stadium to be the home of a Sun Belt football team.



1a) Expansion of seating capacity, west stands. Capacity is the biggest issue facing UTA. However loosely the NCAA enforces the FBS requirement rules, there's no question the Mav has to seat more people. Right now, depending on the source, it seats either 15,000 or 12,500. I counted seats one day and got 11,682 with 7,524 on the west side (oddly, the first row was taken out, losing 126 seats).

The architect and planners were really forward thinking at the time of Maverick Stadium's construction. They recognized that support had dwindled since the team left campus and put forth a plan to have stadium capacity upgraded should they rebuild that support.



In the above picture, you can see the the edge of where the expansion would go, just to the outside of each end zone. The concrete walkway seen coming from underneath the stadium, running parallel to the field, then making a 90 degree turn is the boundary. Extending that out would add two sections on each side. If you ever wondered why the aisle's are labeled C-F, that's due to the fact that there would be two more aisles on each side. By my count, and I admit there could be ADA issues and such, but using the existing stands as blueprints for what the expanded stands would hold, I get an increased capacity of 14,318 for the west side, which would be 18,476 for the stadium with no other changes.

1b) Expansion of seating capacity, east stands. Given the fact that seating capacity won't even expand beyond 20,000 for the west, this one really has to happen in concert with the other. I separated it for a couple of reasons. The first is to put the numbers up. Adding two aisles on each side of the east stands brings the count from 4,158 to 7,686. Now that brings total stadium capacity to 22,004.

The NCAA an FBS school to play in a 30,000 seat stadium or average 15,000 over a two-year period. That may no longer be enforced as several schools seem to do neither. Many schools have smaller stadiums: North Carolina-Charlotte (15,000+),  Idaho (16,000), Western Kentucky (22,000), Appalachian State (24,050) and Georgia Southern (25,000) are Sun Belt examples that were able to move up from I-AA/FCS with sub-30,000 seat stadiums. If that (22,004) is doable, stop there.

If it isn't acceptable, then that opens up other options that have to be looked at by the decision makers. 

In the above picture, there is ample room for expansion on the east side. Several options exist - a demoing and complete redoing, double decking or simply adding to the back and making it taller.  The field is about equidistant from the east and west boundaries. The west side is far larger than the east, but a complete demo could make it similar in both size and capacity. Any change to to the east will effect other ideas that I have, so it obviously has to be carefully vetted in the overall plan, but shouldn't be difficult.

2) Expand the underseating. One of the things that I believe makes Maverick Stadium so superior is that all the player-support functions are underneath the west stands. Most stadiums in UTA's peer group can not say that as they were built on a raised berm or in a depressed bowl. The only way for those schools to add player-support facilities is to build fieldhouses or separate facilities.

As the west stands are expanded to the end zones in 1a above, the area below the stands can easily be expanded without needing a fieldhouse. Now UTA will certainly need to add space. 85 scholarships and roughly 100 players have to go somewhere. The best reference I can find is the Nienas Report I referenced earlier:
 

Facilities present the biggest challenge in the expansion of the University of Texas at Arlington athletic program. 
Maverick Stadium provides a good venue for competition involving football and women’s soccer. (I have been advised that there are sufficient golf courses in the area that would be willing to accommodate a UTA women’s golf team.) 
Regarding practice fields, the football team could utilize the grass field north of Maverick Stadium, and this area would be available to women’s soccer if there was no football team.Otherwise, the women’s soccer team would have to make arrangements to secure a practice area, possibly adjacent to the new recreation and intramural fields. 
Based upon the assumption that Maverick Stadium can accommodate competition without additional expense, other than perhaps upgrading the press box area and the possibility of developing suites that can be sold to donors, the challenge is in finding adequate space to accommodate approximately 100 football players and 20 to 25 soccer players.
According to Director of Athletics Pete Carlon, women’s soccer would need a minimum of 5,000 square feet and football would require a minimum of 20,000 square feet. This would provide space for lockers, weight room, a small training room, showers, meeting rooms and coaches offices. Additional space may be required to accommodate support personnel.
Now some of this will be out of date. For example, College Park Center wasn't built at the time of the study. The baseball and softball teams now have their own locker and office space and no longer occupy Maverick Stadium or the Gilstrap Center as they did at the time the report was compiled. Also, I don't know if space requirements would be different for a 1-A team versus a 1-AA that was voted on by students and prepared for by the Nienas Group.

My rough estimate is expanding the first level south would create approximately 13,000 square foot of space. It would be difficult to expand north as the Gilstrap Center is there. Maybe it gets sacrificed to expand the first level north, (I'll honor him later). There is an area on the northside that is open air and could be enclosed in its own facility. Either way, I don't believe space is an issue.

I also don't think UTA would need 25,000 square feet as the report says. With College Park Center, the entire athletic department no longer has to utilize Maverick Stadium's weight or training rooms, lessening its demand. Also, since College Park Center houses much of the Athletic Department, along with the basketball and volleyball staff, coupled with the baseball and softball coaches having moved out, the space is no longer at a premium as it was in 2004.

My desire would be for every team to have their own permanent locker room. The volleyball and basketball teams have College Park Center, the baseball and softball teams have their respective clubhouses. The track teams will likely always call Maverick Stadium home.

I hope that the tennis teams get their own pro shop with attached locker rooms in some future expansion at the UTA Tennis Center. That leaves the golf teams.

Any new expansion should include a permanent locker room for the football and women's soccer team (maybe men's soccer?). Golf becomes an anomaly since they don't have any facilities on campus other than a practice putting green at Maverick Stadium. That leaves four (maybe five) permanent locker rooms for football, soccer and the men's and women's track teams, with the options of men's and women's golf. In addition, there needs to be a visitors locker room or two, maybe one big one that is partitionable as well as one for the referees.

I also estimate that there needs to be a media room for after-game press conferences, a film room for studying the opponents, an academic center, a training room, a players lounge, coaches offices, Maverick Club reception room, the Hall of Honor, equipment room and storage room.

Now the good new is that some of these are already in place. Many are also in the Gilstrap Center. It seems to me that locker room space is the big need, followed by amenities that have come into vogue since UTA dropped their program, like a lounge and film room. This is why I think whatever is needed could be accomplished just by expanding the lower level just to the south and keeping the Gilstrap Center. Much of the administration functions of the team can be accomplished there.

3) Add suites. There needs to be an expansion of the suite capacity at Maverick Stadium. Those are big revenue-generators and UTA needs to maximize generation as much as possible. The press box has a person capacity of 168 people, and that includes working media and UTA staff. President Vistasp Karbhari has been very visible at UTA athletic events since he began his tenure, something that began under the previous president. I don't think a President's suite is out of the question, though he may be a sit-in-the-stands kind of guy.

The issue is that I don't know how easily the press box is expandable. There is a separate support structure under the stadium for the press box. It may be easy to expand out, it may not. Expansion may be doable. Complete demo and rebuild may be required. That area is outside my expertise.

What I suggest, is one of two things. Add some capacity to the east stands similar to that of Malone Stadium at Louisiana-Monroe. Either move the coaches booth there and let the current ones become suites or make an entirely separate suites booth on the east side side. That's where this idea and the east side expansion would have to be planned in concert, assuming the current press box is not easily expandable. That may prevent a more expensive demo and rebuild.

4) New exterior. I think one of the biggest ideas that make folks believe Maverick Stadium is "a dump" is that there really is no exterior, other than a chain link fence. Clay Gould Ballpark used to be the same way, prior to a renovation in 2003.

Therefore, I suggest a new exterior, in the same architectural styling as the baseball, softball and intramural facilities.

This would allow the architect the most latitude. I would suggest something in a horseshoe shape that extends from west side stands to the south, then the east side stands. There are many field venues to the north that I would not want the sightlines from the stands to be cutoff. Since access is primarily from the south and east, then it accomplishes that task of giving Maverick Stadium curb appeal.

It also wouldn't have to coincide with the current boundaries. There is a lot of empty, green space that serves no function other than an aesthetic one. Converting this space to a usable one would have benefits. It would also cut down on the square footage of any exterior addition. If it is necessary, I'd suggest redrawing the streets around the venue to facilitate this process. It may be needed to relocate the long jump and pole vault pits in the south part of the stadium to make it happen. I believe there is plenty of space to make it work on the north side.

Remember when I referenced Bobcat Stadium? One of the big reasons it went from below Maverick Stadium in quality to a gem is the exterior rebuild.

Before
After

The new exterior made all the difference. The interior of the stadium was primarily the same after renovation, though they did expand it out. They made additions. But it's the exterior that sets it apart. I believe Maverick Stadium can accomplish the same thing.

5)  Scoreboard issues. There are a couple of ways to go with this one. Either add a new scoreboard in the south end zone, complete with a nice size replay board, or completely replace the north scoreboard. I like the idea of having two. I feel a bigger replay board is an expected amenity in modern stadiums.

6) Champions Plaza. One of the benefits UTA will have when it resurrects its program is that there is already a tradition that dates back to 1959 as a four-year University and 1919 overall. Here, in some of the open, green space mentioned earlier, I suggest building an outdoor plaza.

On the periphery would be plaques of Maverick Hall of Honor inductees, divided into groups of sports teams that occupy the stadium. In the center should be a bronze statue of Claude "Chena" Gilstrap. He is still well-known today and was a great ambassador for the UTA Athletic Department and is one of, if not the biggest reason, UTA is where it is today. When legendary coaches like Paul "Bear" Bryant speech highly of him, then you know he was something special. Doing this would set UTA apart from other start-ups and give players, recruits and visitors a sense of history and tradition. It should be placed in a high traffic area and easily be accessible, I think on the way to the west stands from the south entrance.

A similar example of this is up at College Park Center. Anyone can easily peruse the history on that wall. Prior to that, it was difficult to find any history in any UTA facility. It shouldn't be that way. Maverick Stadium needs to do something to trumpet its history and accomplishments.

7) Indoor practice facility. Maverick Stadium already has the space for outdoor practice facilities just to the north of the playing field. However, indoor practice spaces are becoming all the rage. Therefore, I suggest building one that not only accommodates the future football team, but every sport in the Athletic Department. There is a vacant lot directly east of Maverick Stadium, that if I'm not mistaken, was left as it is to serve as a buffer between the stadium and residential neighborhood. This would further serve as a buffer, though there may be some NIMBYism about the scale of the building.

But I think this location is best since it is a short jaunt from the locker rooms at Maverick Stadium and wouldn't require demolition of any current structure. I'm sure there are other ideas, but the idea itself is the point of this one.

Finally) Donor possibilities. This really isn't it's own step, but what I have suggested is certainly not cheap, maybe in the range of College Park Center's construction cost ($78 million). The most expensive things would be the expansion of the stands and exterior, and I believe those things are very necessary. There would have to be a lot of donations raised to make it possible. Fortunately, there are many naming opportunities to sweeten the pot.

I'd prefer that Maverick Stadium keep its name, but believe that it could be altered in such a way as Corporation's Maverick Stadium. It isn't a deal breaker, and certainly would rather have this financed than keep the name, but I think it goes back to the tradition thing.

Other naming rights opportunities include the field (John Smith field at Maverick Stadium), the track (John Smith track at Maverick Stadium), the press box, suites, the 1st level, individual rooms with either the first level or press box, the stands (John Smith stands rather than east stands), scoreboard, the Champions Plaza, etc.

There may be other ideas that people think should be included. I know a lot of people think football stadiums should not have tracks. I think that the cost/benefit isn't inline to make it work for UTA. But I don't think finding a location and construction for a track and field/soccer venue, removing the track and adjusting the stands don't pass a financial test when there are far more pressing needs.

 But to answer this post's title, yes, I do believe Maverick Stadium is FBS worthy.

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