Athletics discusses Coughlin upgrade

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

Projects that recently seemed like distant dreams to some have taken a step toward becoming reality.

The recently completed athletic master plan has identified a new football stadium, the renovation and expansion of Frost Arena and an indoor practice facility as projects for the Athletic Department to complete in coming years.

Though none of these projects will be started immediately, the study did create a vision for the department, a vision that has Athletic Director Justin Sell excited to start upgrading athletic facilities to complement other campus developments.

“There’s a lot of growth on campus with the new residence halls, the Avera Health and Science Center and engineering department expansion,” he said. “There’s a lot of great energy on campus right now.”

One of the higher profile projects laid out in the master plan – and one that was recently the subject of a feasibility study – is a new 22,500-seat football stadium.

It features party decks, about 20 suites, a club seating level – which allows those fans to sit outside but have exclusive access to a club-type area behind their seats – an alumni lounge, increased numbers of concession stands and bathrooms and retail space. On the east side, Sell said the department is looking at a family fun area, and future expansion to about 40,000 seats is an easy option within the design.

In the model, students and the band sit in the south end zone, with the Pride anchoring the middle of the section. The student space has its own bathrooms and concession stands.

“We want to put them where they would have the biggest impact on the game and also have their own space,” Sell said.

Through the years, the SDSU fan base has outgrown Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. CAS has 10,200 seats but attendance averaged about 13,200 per game this past season. A couple games had about 15,000 spectators, and during those games, people without a seat had to stand, Sell said.

“How many people do we keep away because it’s not a good experience for them?” Sell asked.

Student support was also strong this season, with numbers averaging about 2600 a game, Sell said. A few times the student section was completely filled and was closed off to late-arrivers. Both Sell and head football coach John Stiegelmeier would like to see an increased area for students due to the energy they can bring.

“The effect of the crowd is not so much the aesthetics of the stadium or the size but how much they get into the game,” Stiegelmeier said. “In a big stadium, there’s room for more students, and that can have a huge effect on the game.”

At almost 48 years old, some feel Coughlin-Alumni Stadium has become a bit dated. From a coaching standpoint, the stadium presents problems since it’s not big enough to host playoff games, Stiegelmeier said.

“We would have no chance with our present facility,” he said.

To fund a new stadium, the Athletic Department will look for support from donors, strong ticket sales in the new stadium and revenue from the premium suite and club areas.

The Athletic Department will soon bring all three projects to the Foundation so the organization can talk with donors and look for some community partnerships for the feasibility study’s proposed projects. Prioritizing the projects will rely heavily on which projects receive donor support, Sell said.

“The whole goal was to get something on paper here at the end of January so we can go out to the people capable of helping us and lay out our vision to see whether they can help us out,” Sell said.

Under the feasibility plan, Frost Arena – which has hosted high-profile Division-I opponents and WNIT games in the past few years – will expand to the south, adding three volleyball courts, three basketball courts, three wrestling mats and a 2000-person seating area. The courts could be used for basketball, volleyball and wrestling practice, and also volleyball and wrestling matches.

The current Frost Arena – which saw its first game on Feb. 2, 1973 – will also receive some renovations, adding seats to the corners on the lower level of Frost, ADA seating and a concourse and concession area between the current arena and the expansion.

Sell said these changes will create quality seating areas instead of more seats, keeping Frost Arena around its current level of 6,000 seats. If fans filled all these seats every game, Sell said SDSU would have a clear home-court advantage.

“This would be an impossible place (for opponents) to win games,” he said.

Though the indoor practice facility will probably not be as exciting as the new stadium or Frost expansion to general students, Sell said this building has the potential to have the biggest impact on SDSU athletics.

“So many student athletes are affected by their ability to get in quality practice,” he said.

Planned to be north of the Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center, the practice facility features a 1,000-seat spectator area, a 300-meter track and pits and cages for field events, a weight room, batting cages, an 80-yard football field with two full end zones and areas for soccer practice. It also includes a human performance center, an area that could have strong academic ties and be open for not only athletes but also the community and general students, Sell said.

Stiegelmeier said the practice facility would also have a large impact on his program. During weeks of bad weather, the team would practice indoors, and players would use the building consistently for winter workouts.

“Virtually every student athlete of ours will use the fieldhouse at some point,” Sell said.

Ideally, the Athletic Department would present one or more of these projects within the feasibility study to the Board of Regents at its October 2010 meeting, Sell said. The university will have to get BOR and legislative approval before starting the projects, and Sell said construction would start a couple years after receiving these approvals.

“Our goal is if for the next five, six or seven years we do things right in this program – and these facilities are a piece of that – we’ll set the table for the next 30, 40 or 50 years,” he said.