ASU’s latest surprise…a facelift for Sun Devil Stadium

First, they circled the wagons on the Arizona State campus following the firing of the athletic director.

Now they’re sending out the advance party.

Immediately after Steve Patterson was unexpectedly announced as the new AD, replacing Lisa Love, the athletic department began sending out statements of support from the various coaches for a program that has been the subject of considerable controversy lately.

The media was flooded with prepared quotes from just about every coach, from the golf program to the football program.  It was an impressive show of support, obviously designed to help rally the troops (fans and alumni) following the last few years of dismal performance by the school’s major sports, football and basketball, and some messy public relations disasters during the hiring of its new football coach, Todd Graham.

Then, within a week of Patterson’s hire, the school began leaking word of a new major renovation project for Sun Devil Stadium, reportedly showing renderings of the ‘new look’ to visiting recruits and their parents.  Phase II, sending out the advance party to gauge the reaction of its sports community, had started.

The roll-out continued Tuesday when Patterson addressed plans for major upgrades to the stadium when he was interviewed on the Doug and Wolf radio show on Arizona Sports 620.

And now we have the official announcement for the renovation project that could end up costing as much as $300 million dollars, with the unveiling of architectural renderings yesterday at an ASU press conference.

Now we learn that Patterson has been working on the renovation project since he arrived nine months ago to become the school’s Chief Operating Officer of Sun Devil Athletics – and, as it turns out, the athletic director-in-waiting.   His move into the position of Vice President for University Athletics and Athletic Director apparently seemed the ideal time to unveil the plans.

The stadium was built 54 years ago and hasn’t had a facelift in almost a quarter century.  The last major renovation took place in 1989.

This one could take awhile.  There are too many factors to consider to pin down a schedule for completion, including whether they want to schedule games at another site for a couple of seasons to enable the work to progress more rapidly.  That, says Patterson, “is not the preferred outcome.”

Another problem they will face is the site itself, which Patterson admits “is holy ground for some.”  But it is also a tight site because it is nestled between two buttes.

The work is likely to be done in stages, as many as five say ASU officials.  While a timetable for construction hasn’t been set yet, estimates put completion anywhere from three to five years.

The tough part starts in June, after a budget has been prepared.  That’s when the school begins looking for the money to finance this ambitious endeavor.

When it’s done, it should be well worth the wait.  The updates will provide “dramatically different amenities” that will include more restrooms (always a crowd-pleaser), new elevators and escalators, a mezzanine level with plush clubs and suites, a state-of-the-art sound system, and a new scoreboard and video board.

And perhaps the favorite upgrade for anyone who has sat through an ASU football game in late August… a fabric roof that will enable it to continue as an open-air stadium, but provide shady relief from the desert sun.

There should also be more leg room for everyone, even though it will mean decreasing the overall number of seats to somewhere between 55,000 and 65,000.  But Patterson points out that the average attendance last season was 59,000 – and it was the largest student body attendance in the history of the football program – so he feels a slightly smaller capacity than the current 71,708 seats would be an acceptable trade-off for more comfortable seating and improved amenities.

Arizona State is just doing what is necessary to be able to compete successfully in today’s college sports world.  As Patterson points out, Pac-12 schools alone have accounted for over a billion dollars in construction work on new or remodeled football stadiums.

And the Sun Devils are only too aware that their rival in Tucson is part of that wave of progress, as the Wildcats are in the midst of a $72 million construction project that will expand and improve their football stadium and upgrade other aspects of the athletic facilities.

The folks in Tempe have undoubtedly kept one eye on the sports program at the University of Arizona, since there have been many comparisons between the two lately.  Arizona, which also got a boost less than two years ago with the hire of Greg Byrne as AD, has been on the upswing as Byrne (an ASU grad) set about polishing the image of the school’s athletic program.

The perception has been that Arizona’s elevator was going up, just as Arizona State’s was coming down.

But now, with a new football coach, a new image crafted last year with the help of Nike-designed uniforms, a new athletic director, and bold new plans for its football stadium… maybe ASU has hit the bottom floor and is once again pushing the ‘up’ button.

To get to the next level, however, it will still require winning on the football field and on the basketball court.  Plans are nice, but fans will need to see results before they can begin believing again.

However, the cool architect’s rendering of the school’s vision for the future should help.