On the final day of August, Baylor will christen its new football stadium with a primetime Sunday game against SMU. A national television audience will get the rare opportunity to see one of the nation’s top offenses play in college football’s newest stadium.
Bears quarterback Bryce Petty is prepared for the stadium to be the bigger draw.
“Across the country you see renovations and add-ons, but very few completely new stadiums,” Petty said last week at Big 12 media days. “That’s what this is. It is going to be a great recruiting tool and it is going to be great to play in front of 50,000 people in there.”
Baylor’s new football home, a $260 million behemoth on the Brazos River named McLane Stadium, is the toast of facility upgrades in the Big 12. But Bears fans will want to enjoy the extra attention. It won’t last long. An arms race is heating up across the conference, with programs looking to spend huge sums on stadium improvements.
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Soon after the debut of McLane Stadium, four other Big 12 schools will break ground on massive projects.
Kansas State, which finished $90 million in construction on its football stadium last summer, has another $65 million renovation on the way. Iowa State has announced a $60 million project to enclose its south end zone. West Virginia will use much of a $75 million bond to upgrade its stadium. And Oklahoma will spend $370 million to renovate its already massive stadium.
Even Texas, which is home to one of the largest stadiums in the nation, is exploring options to expand its 100,000-seat goliath.
Only three schools in the Big 12 aren’t publicly discussing renovations to stadiums – Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and TCU, which have all spent more than $100 million on upgrades in the past decade.
The race, it seems, has no finish line.
“When we joined the Big 12, we began realizing that although we had nice facilities – and we still do in many cases – we are now competing against the very best in the country,” West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck told reporters when he announced upgrade plans in April.
There are several reasons behind the stadium arms race: increased television money, larger conference payouts, increased donations and the fear of being left behind.
Kansas State and Iowa State recently received their largest athletic donations in history, while Baylor is parlaying recent success under Art Briles into stadium upgrades. Oklahoma is capitalizing big on a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama.
Even Kansas, winner of nine games over the past four seasons, is spending $500,000 to remove the track that has long been a staple at Memorial Stadium.
Everyone is thinking the same thing: What’s next?
“I know it is just the first step in a long process in terms of renovating the stadium, but I think it was a great first step,” Kansas football coach Charlie Weis said. “The field will be much more representative of our university.”
Briles is thankful others are now trying to keep up with the Bears.
For years, he shielded recruits from Floyd Casey Stadium, a 54-year-old structure located off campus next to neighborhoods and a grocery store that ranked among the nation’s dullest places to play. When asked how often prospects toured the facility over the past four years, he replied: “Z-E-R-O.”
“Unless a kid came to one of our games, he never saw our stadium. Why would he?” Briles said. “It wasn’t a positive for us in recruiting. Now it is just the opposite. What we had to recruit on then was family, attitude and effort – being trailblazers, mavericks, the tough guys of the conference.
“Now we can recruit on having one of the best stadiums in the United States of America, plus being trailblazers, mavericks, tough guys and all that other stuff. That really counts.”
Many programs have already tasted the spoils of extravagant stadium upgrades. TCU debuted its improvements the same year it joined the Big 12. Oklahoma State’s rise has coincided with renovations at Boone Pickens Stadium, and Kansas State has played in four straight bowl games.
“The Christmas toys are getting bigger and bigger,” Petty said. “They are a huge part of recruiting. It is all about the newest stuff that you have.”
The race is on to see who will cash in next.