On Friday, with ESPN’s College GameDay set in earshot, a fifth-ranked Buckeye team on the horizon, recruits across multiple sports wheeling around campus in golf carts, a massive video board reading “Go Big” planted next to a stage that would seat football coach Scott Frost and future stud wideout Wan’Dale Robinson, Nebraska officially entered college football's most expensive arms race.
The Huskers announced plans to move forward with a $155 million, 350,000 square-foot renovation project that will include major renovations to current pieces of Memorial Stadium and a new standalone, state-of-the-art football facility in place of the current Ed Weir Track.
“I’m thrilled to announce what we will refer to as the ‘North Stadium Expansion Project,’” Athletic Director Bill Moos said Friday. “[It] will not only serve as the home for Nebraska Football, but also house the training table and an academic services area for our over 650 student-athletes.”
It’s a project nearly two years in the making.
Matt Davison, Nebraska’s associate athletic director and one of Frost’s closest friends, was sitting in Moos’ office in October of 2017 (or sometime around then; forgive Davison if the dates aren’t exact, this has consumed his life over the last few months). They were talking about a number of things, but all centered around the future of a program Moos had been tapped to resurrect.
Davison stood up and pointed at a picture hanging on Moos’ wall. An overhead shot of Memorial Stadium and the surrounding facilities. He pointed at Ed Weir Track and said, “Bill, we need to put a football building right here.”
“Right away he lit up and I knew that he knew that it was something we should look at,” Davison said Friday.
This was before Frost was brought on to coach football.
Friday has been in the pipeline for some time.
Over the last year, Davison and Moos and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and a team of administrators have gone across the country to find inspiration for their new facility and see where they currently stacked up. The conclusion: Nebraska is behind.
The Big Ten has seen $270 million (Northwestern), $166 million (Minnesota), $65 million (Purdue) and $55 million (Iowa) projects to upgrade facilities in recent years. Illinois, where the team most recently toured, has upgraded as well.
“Since we built North Stadium [in 2006], I think all but two other Power Five schools have either built new facilities or upgraded theirs,” Frost told the gathered crowd Friday.
Moos and his team traveled to Clemson and Alabama, too. Even to the Dallas Cowboys’ football mecca.
“This one’s going to be better than all of them,” said Green.
Throughout this past summer, Frost called the current facilities adequate. The biggest issue is size. Strength coach Zach Duval doesn't have enough space in his weight room. Head of nutrition Dave Ellis doesn’t have enough space at the Training Table. The football team uses two locker rooms because the current one — built during the days of Bill Callahan’s 105-man rosters — doesn’t fit.
“I think we’re going to build the best football facility/athletic complex in the country,” Davison said. “I think it’s going to put us at the top of the facility race in college athletics. It’s going to be a football compound like no other around the country.”
Exterior designs are mostly finalized. . .
Here is a quick look at the #Huskers’ new facility. #GBR pic.twitter.com/zxgUdUhHm1
— Hail Varsity (@HailVarsity) September 27, 2019
. . . but the interior is a different story. Nebraska is not at a point where it wants to talk square footage of specific spaces, but Duval’s weight room and Ellis’ training table will both be in the new building. Both will have as much space as they want.
“Safe to say it’s going to be bigger than it is now,” Davison said of the weight room. “Substantially. The size of this building and the scope is going to be much bigger than I think anything that anybody has done in college athletics in the past.”
And both Ellis and Duval will have extensive input in how their particular spaces are designed.
“Nobody knows how to design a weight room better than your strength coach,” Davison said. “Nobody knows how to design a training table better than your nutritionist. Those guys have been involved in the process to this point. … You bring the smartest people you can into a room and you to come up with ideas and think big and that’s what we’ve done. We’ve thought big the whole time.”
As for the new football locker room, Moos said it will be big enough for everyone, whether that fits the 150-man roster Frost has now or a roster potentially as big as 170 people in the future. (Nebraska is in Title IX compliance as it relates to the opportunities for men’s and women’s athletics.)
It’s important to Frost that everyone is in the same locker room.
“That’s how you build a family,” Moos said. “Walk-ons are no different than scholarship players. That’s how this program made it and was so successful for four decades. We want to get back to that.
“You can’t be on the same page unless you’re in the same room.”
So far, Nebraska’s athletic department has fundraised “35 to 40%” of its goal. Green said he expects $100 million to come from private donors, with the rest coming from trust funds and bonds. The university won’t break ground until after the upcoming track season ends (early next May) and the project is expected to be completed by June of 2022.
Green said the university’s Board of Regents already has the new project proposal and will approve it during the next BOR meeting in October.
Relocating the track’s home to the Innovation Campus and building a separate area to serve as the home for Nebraska’s track and field program will run an additional $10-15 million. The new stadium will go in north of the Bob Devaney Sports Center and provide an outdoor track closer to Nebraska’s indoor track facility and coaches’ offices, which are housed at the Devaney Center.
The soccer team currently practices at Ed Weir despite having recently-constructed Barbara Hibner Stadium just north of the Devaney Sports Center as well, but with football taking over that space, soccer will officially move all of its operations over to Hibner. That will allow football to reallocate space on the second floor of the Hawks Championship Center that’s currently being used for soccer offices.
Golf and swimming facility renovations have been discussed, but those are still in a very early stage of planning. They will not be part of this project. Neither will South Stadium renovations, though Green said Nebraska is already holding planning sessions about that as well.
For the crowd that questions why football needs a $100-million-plus facility while higher education finds itself in a budget crisis, Green wants to stress Nebraska is financially healthy.
“We’re very fortunate to be in a position where very few athletic departments are of being financially healthy,” Green said. “We’re one of the only schools to not have any debt in our athletic program. If you look at the Big Ten and our peers in the Big Ten, many of them have significant debt that they have in the program. We feel very good about it.”
Nebraska got an unprecedented payout from the Big Ten for the last fiscal year, which factors into the timing here, but the university is also investing $357 million into academic services.
Green called this new football facility a priority.
The locker room and weight room will be exclusive to football. Coaches offices will be moved over. The training table and academic support services will be open to all student-athletes.
Nebraska is still working on a plan to repurpose current spaces inside North Stadium. The Ndamukong Suh Strength and Conditioning Center could be kept as a weight room for other sports, or Moos said it may be turned into a Husker history center. The second floor — where coaching offices currently sit — may become the home for the ticket, Husker Vision and communications departments.
Friday’s announcement comes on the outset of arguably the biggest weekend in Lincoln in years. ESPN’s College GameDay is on campus for the first time since 2007 to preview Nebraska’s Saturday night clash with No. 5 Ohio State on ABC. It might be the biggest recruiting weekend of the Frost era to date.
“You’ve got to continually invest in success,” Moos told Hail Varsity in a brief meeting this week. “You cannot sit dormant.”
That’s the hope with this upcoming project. Moos and Frost are trying to awaken a program that has, at least on the national scene, been dormant for the greater part of the last two decades. LSU’s latest locker room renovation — the swapping of traditional lockers with sleep pods — is the latest in a long line of examples of programs falling over themselves to offer the newest, shiniest bells and whistles to recruits.
“I can feel where this is going,” Frost said. “I know where this is going. We have more steps to take, but there are a lot of steps behind us already. I think it’s important for us going forward as a state, as a university and as a football team to make sure that we’re committed to competing at the highest level. This is evidence that the University of Nebraska is committed to making sure that we do everything we can to compete at the highest level.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.