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Governor and trustees endorse football upgrade to Division 1-A
Rowland: State will bear full costs of stadium construction
As the debate about upgrading the University's football program to Division I-A and building a suitable stadium has become more focused, one important question has remained constant: who will pay? Support from the University's administration and the Board of Trustees for the upgrade and the stadium has been predicated on this issue. On Friday, Governor John Rowland attended the Board of Trustees' meeting at the Bishop Center and left no doubt about where he stood on the issue.
"The point of the matter is that the State of Connecticut will be bearing the costs," Rowland said. "I plan to meet with legislative leaders in the next few weeks. It is my intention to have a special session in the month of November to iron out the details."
Rowland emphasized that the funds he will seek for the upgrade and the stadium will not be pulled from other monies slated for use by the University for academics, its operating budget, or UConn 2000.
"We will be bonding the cost," he said. "We are not changing any of the UConn 2000 focus. We're not substituting, we're not deferring. Rather, we're enhancing the UConn 2000 plan by $100 million to build this stadium."
Rowland also addressed concerns that the upgrade and stadium issues come down to a choice of athletics over academics.
"That is a silly concept," he said. "The two go hand in hand. We've been able to take the success of the basketball programs and use that to catapult our academic programs. Now we can take the academic programs and use them to catapult the athletic programs."
President Philip E. Austin agreed with Rowland that athletics and academics were not antagonistic, but rather, complementary.
"It seems to me that even the most pure of the academic purists cannot deny the impact that the phenomenal success of Connecticut basketball programs have had on the ability of this institution to become more well known nationally and to recruit more quality students from Connecticut and beyond."
Austin also pointed to a variety of changes that the move to Division I-A football will produce, including raising the visibility of the University during the capital campaign, much of which will be aimed at raising funds for endowed professorships and scholarships. He mentioned that the upgrade will increase the University's recruitment power statewide and nationally, and foster a greater sense of community on campus.
"I would also point out that there is a group of institutions that are generally regarded as the pre-eminent academic research universities in the country, and they are the members of the Association of American Universities (AAU)," he said. "It is more than coincidence that virtually all of those institutions compete at the Division I-A level in football."
Student trustee Brian Collins reported on a recent poll of current UConn students taken by the Undergraduate Student Government that showed widespread support for the upgrade. Of the 1,645 students surveyed, 89 percent supported the move to Division I-A.
Peter Halvorson, a professor of geography representing the University Senate Executive Committee, expressed support for the proposal but told the board, "I urge you to hold firm on the matter of upgrading football not coming at the expense of any academic programs at the University."
In addition to the cost, where to put the stadium has been another important concern. The administration and the overwhelming majority of the board members have advocated building the facility in Storrs - if possible on campus. Governor Rowland's opinion reflected this thinking.
"I don't see the sense in spending a billion dollars (upgrading the campus) over the next 10 years and then building one of the greatest magnets 40 or 50 miles away," Rowland said. "I think it's unanimous that we should have it here on campus.
Rowland said that adding the stadium to UConn 2000 will serve to keep the focus on students. "We want a school that puts academics first and puts students first. Putting this facility on this campus sends that message loud and clear."
Rowland said, however, he believed the particular location in Storrs should be left to the administration and the board.
Based on information prepared by the consulting groups that were contracted to study both the move to I-A football and the construction of a stadium that would fit NCAA Division I-A specifications, what is known as the North Campus Site emerged as the favorite.
The study effort was led by KPMG Peat Marwick LLP, in conjunction with Connecticut architectural firm Jeter, Cook, and Jepson Architects Inc. and HOK Sport, a Kansas City-based firm recognized as the world's leading stadium design firm.
Initially, four potential stadium sites, three in Storrs - upgrading Memorial Stadium, a North Campus site, and a site at the former Mansfield Training School - and a site in Hartford, were considered. As the costs and the advantages were quantified, however, the North Campus site emerged as the best option, based on cost, access, and other characteristics of the site.
The site, on ConnTech Park Road off North Eagleville Road, is within walking distance for students and other members of the university community. It offers adequate space for expansion of the stadium and on-site practice and training facilities. Parking can be created for 4,500 cars and the site is close to the new parking garage currently under construction on campus. The site will also have two points of entry and egress. Development costs are estimated at $106,740,000.
A 10-year projection regarding profitability was also offered by the consultants. It showed that in the 1996 fiscal year, the football program was operating at a deficit of more than $2 million. With the upgrade, a new stadium in Storrs, and membership in The Big East Conference for football, the projections showed the program realizing an operating surplus of nearly $1 million by the 2005 fiscal year (the 2004 football season), and a projected operating surplus of $2,592,000 by the 2007 fiscal year.
Ultimately the board passed a resolution that included endorsement of the upgrade of the football program to Division I-A and approval of the North Campus location for the stadium.
In other business, the board unanimously approved the conceptual approach of the campus master plan. The board will consider the details of the plan in January.
The board also heard a presentation on the proposed interior renovations to the library.
The Trustees Administration Faculty Student (TAFS) committee Friday requested Peter Halvorson to convene a committee to review the procedures for appointing a new university president, stating that the present appointment committee of 35 is unwieldy.