By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Art Briles has made it clear that one of his unfinished goals at Baylor is to coach in an on-campus stadium. That day looks a lot closer.
Baylor Athletics has released an architectural rendering of an on-campus, riverfront football stadium, as an outgrowth of the University's on-going strategic planning process, and will conduct a fan survey and feasibility study that is expected to be completed next month.
"Due to the strong interest expressed by Baylor Nation for an on-campus football facility, we have decided to share a rendering of the stadium," Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said of the architectural drawing done by Populous, a worldwide leader in sports stadium architecture that has been engaged to develop the stadium's master plan.
McCaw said the preferred location for the stadium is the Brazos River site adjacent to Interstate 35 and across from the Highers Athletics Complex. Last month, the University purchased the Waco Hotel that currently sits on the northern end of the site.
"This location will maximize the stadium's exposure," McCaw said, "given the more than 100,000 vehicles that travel the highway each day, while providing Baylor with an extraordinary branding opportunity."
Baylor football has been off campus since 1936, when it moved from the on-campus Carroll Field facility to Waco Stadium (later renamed Municipal Stadium). This is the Bears' 62nd season of football at the 50,000-seat Floyd Casey Stadium, which originally opened as Baylor Stadium in 1950.
Drayton McLane, a former Chairman of the Board of Regents (2002-04) and longtime supporter, has been a strong proponent of moving football back on campus.
"When I went to graduate school at Michigan State, the football stadium was right in the middle of the campus," McLane said in an interview last month with SicEmSports.com. "It was part of the fun with college. Baylor has not experienced that. People go west to the games, and the school is on the east side of the city, so many people won't even see the campus. For a lot of people who go to Texas A&M, Texas Tech or Texas, they get to see their stadium. Baylor is one of the most upbeat and friendly places, but people don't get a chance to see it."
Although he made it clear that the project has not been approved, McCaw said an on-campus, riverfront stadium "would transform our football program, the University and Waco community, while offering one of the most unique and desirable fan experiences in all of intercollegiate athletics."
"Moreover, this facility could lead to many exciting future development options for the Downtown/Brazos River corridor that would dramatically impact all of Central Texas."
Beyond the architectural rendering, one of the first steps in the process will be a fan survey conducted by Conventions, Sports & Leisure that will be mailed out to Baylor Bear Foundation members and football season-ticket holders.
The results of the fan survey and feasibility study will answer questions related to the stadium, including naming rights, stadium revenues, seating capacity, number of suites, club seating, function space and other amenities.
"This is the starting point of a process that will require very strong support from all of those who love Baylor football and want to bring the program back to campus," McCaw said.
Populous has worked on 61 facilities in the state of Texas, including Minute Maid Park and Reliant Stadium in Houston. Other Populous-designed facilities include Heinz Field, Gillette Stadium, Busch Stadium, Yankees Stadium and the University of Minnesota's new on-campus stadium that was built in 2009.
After ending Baylor's 16-year bowl drought with last season's appearance in the Texas Bowl, Briles has made a new on-campus stadium one of his pressing crusades.
"There is a difference between a want and a need," Briles said this summer during one of his Bear Blitz Coaches' Caravan stops. "When you're the only (NCAA Division I) university in the state of Texas that does not have an on-campus stadium, that's a need. It's something that bothers you in the recruiting world. We can tickle each other and giggle all we want, but don't think people don't use that against us. And don't think other universities don't know, because it's true. Real doesn't lie, and that's reality."
Despite committing millions of dollars to stadium improvements over the past two decades, including a new artificial turf last year, Baylor has clearly fallen behind in the ongoing "arms race" for bigger and better facilities.
Texas A&M spent $60 million recently on renovations to Kyle Field. TCU, which is joining the Big 12 for the 2012-13 school year, is finishing up a $150 million renovation to Amon Carter Stadium.
"That's the thing I love about the Big 12: If you yawn, if you sit around and wonder and hope and want, it's not happening," Briles said. "You've got to roll up your sleeves and go to work. And we've got people that are willing to have a bold vision and go to work and lead the charge and get us into the next level that we have to be at."
That likely includes McLane. The Houston Chronicle reports that his sale of the Houston Astros to businessman Jim Crane is expected to be completed at the Major League Baseball owners meeting on Nov. 15-16 in Milwaukee, Wis. Six months ago, Crane agreed on a purchase price of $680 million.
"We certainly made a good deal with Jim Crane," McLane said in the interview with SicEmSports.com. "The money is in the bank. We're just waiting for approval. . . . It will get done."
McCaw said there is no timeline for the stadium project, which must be approved by the Board of Regents, but indicated this is "an opportunity for Baylor University to make a major statement."