Editor's note: Today's story is the second in a three-part series examining the potential facilities upgrades the University of Colorado is exploring for Folsom Field.
Part 1: The plan. A look at the ideas CU officials are considering for stadium renovations.
Part 2: The process. An examination of what it will take to realize the plans.
Part 3: The payoff. Breaking down the rewards CU can reap by following through with pricey upgrades.
School leaders don't want to over promise and under deliver. They are reluctant to say much publicly, but at the same time they need to keep people engaged and generate excitement in order to raise the money to fund their aspirations.
They are not alone. Dozens of schools are in the same boat and plenty of others have been there before.
Some of Colorado's big ideas are illustrated in renderings that accompany the final part of our three-day series today. The concepts were given to the board of regents in June by Chancellor Phil DiStefano as examples of what the school might want to do in and around its 88-year-old football stadium if it can raise enough money in the next few years.
Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder first went to school in Stillwater, Okla., as a freshman in 1966 and a member of the men's golf team. He has been there ever since, including decades of lean times when very little investment occurred in the school's athletics facilities.
Holder, who coached golf at OSU for 32 years, jokes that opponents used to call the Cowboys' home Rustoleum Stadium because it was so dilapidated and ugly.
"You brought a recruit on campus and he looked at the facilities for football and that reflected OSU's commitment to football and why would somebody who is serious about playing football at a high level want to play football at Oklahoma State?" Holder said. "The majority of them went elsewhere."
Folsom Field obviously hasn't fallen to the same state of disrepair and disrespect, but CU officials say there are parts of the stadium that need structural repairs and renovation soon. Their hope is not to fix them with a Band-Aid, but address the issues with solutions that will last decades and also improve the fan experience.
Holder said that is the approach his department adopted a decade ago.
He has been a big part of an unprecedented level of giving and spending over the past 12years at his alma mater. In the 30 years from when he graduated in 1970 until 2000, OSU spent $10 million on athletics facilities. In the first decade of this century, the OSU athletic department spent $10 million per fiscal quarter on athletics facilities and now has one of the best college stadiums in the nation.
"People always said, 'You can't raise significant dollars at Oklahoma State.' They based that on the fact it had never been done before," Holder said, reflecting a sentiment often espoused at CU. "Everyone thought that we didn't have an alumni base that was wealthy enough to make those kind of donations. All of it was wrong.
Of course, Oklahoma State has benefited greatly from the generosity of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who has single-handedly donated more than $230 million to the athletic department in the past 10 years.
Colorado doesn't have such a donor for its athletic department, or at least it hasn't found that person yet.
But Holder said CU doesn't need a T. Boone Pickens. It only needs a little momentum from a donor or group of donors to get things started. He said hundreds of others have made significant donations to his department over the past decade and many were inspired to do so after hearing about Pickens' first big gift of $20 million.
Holder said the giving has spilled over from athletics to the academic side of the school, which also didn't have a strong history of fundraising. Now the school has raised $900 million two years ahead of its deadline to get to $1 billion.
On the field, the Cowboys have gone from a perennial also-ran in the Big Eight and Big 12 Conferences to defending Big 12 champions. Under coach Mike Gundy, OSU advanced to it first BCS bowl game last season and narrowly missed a BCS game in 2010. The Cowboys have been to a bowl every season since 2006.
Holder said CU and any school that makes significant investments in its infrastructure can reasonably expect similar results over time.
"They will have a better football team and game day will be a lot more fun in Boulder, like it used to be when they were contending for national championships," Holder said. "There is no reason they can't do it again.
"And if we can raise that amount of money in Stillwater, Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State University, there is no reason you can't do it at Colorado. If you want to see an example of what it will do, just look at what happened here. They're much further along as a football program than we were. They won a national championship."
University of Washington athletic director Scott Woodward is in the midst of a $250 million renovation to Husky Stadium that took the first four years of his tenure to get started. Different versions of the project were first conceived and considered going back at least two athletic directors before him.
"What people don't realize is that as athletic directors we're not autocratic rulers," Woodward said. "We work for big public universities with a lot of different constituencies within the universities. For the folks that think you can just snap your fingers and do something, we're not Jerry Jones or Pat Bowlen. We're not those guys. In the end, we have to justify the stadium as a public good. It's imperative that we do it this way because we are a public institution."
Some parts of the renovations and construction being considered at CU have roots that go back to the mid-1990s or earlier.
Former athletic director Dick Tharp and his staff first proposed building a permanent indoor practice facility on the northeast side of the stadium as part of their Athletics 2010 plan from the 1990s. Current CU staffers and football coaches have been showing a model from that era to recruits and donors to give them an idea of what the future might hold.
The CU athletic department recently began contacting many of its donors and season-ticket holders with a survey about possible facilities upgrades. A feasibility study will be finished next month and it will tell officials what they can reasonably expect to raise in private funding.
At that point, the department can begin to plan upgrades and a time line for either doing them all at once or in a prioritized order based on available funding.
No public money or funds from the school will be used. CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said much of the construction on campus in recent years has had to be paid for in other ways because there isn't enough money from the state to dedicate to new construction projects or even renovations.
Woodward advises CU officials to plow ahead with as much transparency as possible. He said one of the best decisions made as Washington considered its options was forming a stadium committee that included some of the project's biggest donors, as well as school administrators, faculty and students.
"You have to be patient but you also have to be vigilant about how you attack these things," Woodward said. "It's not a matter saying you start at point A and you will get to point Z at a certain time. It's different for everyone. You have to be as linear as you can and check off the boxes on your way to renovating and fixing the stadium."
Holder said it's only a matter of time before CU moves forward. He said the decision that has to be made is whether the school makes that move soon or if it waits decades to do so, repeating the mistake he believes Oklahoma State made.
"The improvements gave us a fighting chance," Holder said. "Before, we were dead in the water."
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