Pitt Football Should Begin Plans for On-Campus Stadium

John BaranowskiCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2012

13 Aug 1997:   A view of newly renovated Notre Dame Stadium during Media Day in South Bend, Indiana. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Stockman  /Allsport
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

American Educator Hamilton Holt was quoted as saying, “Nothing worthwhile comes easily.”

English painter William Blake said, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” When obstacles appear insurmountable, visionaries see opportunity.

For those who find challenges or change too daunting, it’s easier for them to simply become naysayers. You’re crazy. You can’t do that. It can’t be done. Man will never learn to fly. Man will never set foot on the moon. You can’t build a 23-mile tunnel under water between France and England.

Those are just examples of things naysayers have said only to be proven wrong. Thankfully, there were individuals who were not dissuaded and went on despite the countless naysayers and obstacles they had to overcome.

Former Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff was scoffed at when she proposed a new baseball stadium for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1991; but 10 years later her vision became a reality when PNC Park opened, and is now considered a jewel along the Allegheny River and acclaimed to be one of Major League Baseball’s finest ballparks.

On message boards Pitt fans and alumni regularly debate the merit of having an on-campus stadium versus that of playing at Heinz Field. The University of Pittsburgh should have and deserves its own on-campus stadium.

How can a university that boasts nine national championships in football not have its own on-campus football stadium?

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If it’s to be done and done correctly, it will likely require the acquisition of property, the building of new roads and the redirecting of existing roads for improved infrastructure. Those aren’t easy things to do, but it most certainly can be done and the planning and design for Pitt’s own on-campus stadium and the process to have it built should begin in earnest. 

After all, the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t play at Heinz Field forever. Modern stadiums used for professional sports seem to have a shorter shelf life than those of long ago and don’t nearly last as long as college football stadiums. Heinz Field opened in 2001; its predecessor, Three Rivers Stadium, lasted only 30 years.

The RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana, which opened in 1984, lasted less than 24 years for the Indianapolis Colts. Plans are in the works to demolish the Georgia Dome which opened in 1992 for a retractable football stadium for the Atlanta Falcons to play in with an estimated opening for 2017. 

Oh sure, but what about traffic and parking in Oakland? I’ve heard it said no one wants to drive to Oakland, well make it so fans don’t have to.

Ever go to a Major Golf Tournament like the U.S. Open? There’s insufficient parking for 25,000 fans near a golf course. So, do what they do, and arrange for locations around Pittsburgh that have large parking areas such as shopping malls and high schools, and have buses transport fans to the game for a nominal fee.

That would pay for the buses and gas, and fans won't have to worry about driving in traffic to and from Oakland, trying to find limited parking. This cuts down on traffic congestion, gas usage and pollution. Buses from the North Hills can use the HOV lanes to get into the city, and head towards Oakland and then again on the return trip.

I’m not going to ride a bus! Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan State, Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Penn State are just some of the universities that have shuttles that transport fans from distant locations to campus. It works for these universities. It works for golf tournaments. Deal with it.

Ever hear of public transportation? Improve it and extend the T to Oakland. It’s imperative and has been talked about and suggested for years. It’s time.

This would allow fans from the South Hills to get to Oakland by parking their car at the various T stops that provide parking spaces. Fans could also park downtown if they wanted and then take the T to Oakland and then hit the city’s restaurants and night spots following the game.

Droves of people use the T now to attend Steelers and Pirates games, and allowing easy and convenient access to the region’s finest hospitals and university centers would be a boon to the region. 

Oh, but the tailgating experience won’t be the same. Well, fans can still tailgate in those distant parking lots if they want. At Notre Dame, tailgating takes place in the parking areas north of campus, and fans are shuttled to campus by bus. It works. 

What about the cost?

Funding is obviously an issue and definitely not a minor one. There are many potential sources to help with the financing for an on-campus stadium, which once constructed, becomes a revenue producer for the athletic department and the university. 

Financing can come from a combination of philanthropy, and financing against committed contractual stadium revenues.

A stadium having a large number of suites, lounges, club rooms and loge boxes can be used to host and entertain alumni, corporate parties and donors. Deals for corporate naming rights and sponsorships would also bring in millions of dollars, as would ticket revenue, concessions, merchandise and parking. 

Obviously, one wants to get the most out of any facility. An on-campus stadium would provide a venue not just for football games but other university athletics, graduations, convocations, concerts and
other large events.

An on-campus stadium would also benefit Pitt’s soccer and track and field programs, and could serve to create men’s and women’s lacrosse programs for Pitt to compete with some of the better lacrosse programs in the country in the ACC. 

Going to a Pitt football game at Heinz Field is not going to a game at Pitt—it’s going to a game on the North Shore. With the Panthers now playing at Heinz Field, the majority of Pitt fans never set foot on campus on a football Saturday. They go to the game and then drive home or someplace to eat and drink afterwards.  

Think about the benefits an on-campus stadium would provide for the university. It will bring thousands of people on campus where alumni can reconnect with the place they lived for a few wonderful years and got their college education.

Visitors will be exposed to the university and not some parking lot on the North Shore. They’ll be coming to campus because of Pitt football as opposed to now: no one goes to Pitt’s campus for Pitt football.

There’s no rekindling of nostalgia for alumni at a non-campus stadium. So those good feelings and memories aren’t relived on weekends in the fall for alumni and passed down to their kids, prospective future students and alumni.

Those rekindled memories and new ones help create an even greater passion between alums and their school and athletic programs. Fundraising for a highly visible sports program can also help bring new donors, and larger contributions towards academics and research. 

Incorporate into the stadium design an Alumni Welcome Center for alumni to visit and be proud to do so. An on-campus stadium benefits fundraising as it means a trip back for alumni, a chance to roam around campus and show their kids where they went to school, where they hung out and share fond memories of their college experience. That’s a great selling point for prospective future students.

An on-campus stadium creates a special atmosphere at a university. There’s a natural tie-in of campus life and football weekends together.

Each home game would provide the opportunity for thousands of alumni and non-alumni fans to visit the campus six or seven times a year to show them and sell them the rest of the campus and the facilities.

It would be difficult to place a value on having large numbers of people on campus for six or seven weekends a year. All that positive visibility and exposure to the community and alumni can be a huge plus for any university.

Playing off campus doesn’t create the same enthusiasm for a program and its fans.The atmosphere surrounding an off-campus stadium simply can’t match that of an on-campus stadium. If there’s an upcoming big game, it creates a buzz and an energy on campus and gets everyone talking about it.

Students will be more involved with the game day experience. An on-campus stadium where students can walk to the games helps contribute to a raucous game day atmosphere.

An on-campus stadium also adds to a student’s college experience as well benefiting the school and the entire student body. Athletics and student fanaticism helps generate school spirit and are all part of the college experience. The student experience and campus atmosphere helps build passion and loyalty towards Pitt football and that gets passed on to their kids, friends and relatives.  

The on-campus game day experience is important in programming students for life as a connection to the school and to the football program. How many generations of Pitt alumni have not had that experience? Far too many and maybe that’s why Pitt doesn’t draw as many fans to football games as they should.

Pitt is not a fledgling smaller division program or a newborn football program like the University of South Florida, which is considering building—an on-campus stadium. 

The University of Cincinnati, which plays in a slightly smaller market than Pittsburgh, has their own on-campus stadium in Nippert Stadium which has a capacity of slightly greater than 35,000. Should they have a game that they anticipate will draw in excess of that capacity, they move those games to Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals. Pitt could do the same thing with the Steelers and Heinz Field. 

If the University of Cincinnati—which doesn’t have nearly the football history, success and tradition that the University of Pittsburgh has had over the years—can build its own on-campus stadium, then so can Pitt. The Pittsburgh metropolitan area has over two million people in a region of the country that is notorious for their love of football far more so than Cincinnati.

For the University of Alabama-Birmingham, a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision member, the prospect of constructing an on-campus stadium has been the subject of debate for nearly two decades.

Currently, the Blazers play their games at Legion Field in Birmingham, a 72,000-seat
facility. In February 2011, UAB announced they would build a 30,000 horseshoe-shaped on-campus stadium. If UAB can have their own on-campus stadium, then why can’t Pitt?

Should the University of Alabama-Birmingham and hundreds of other colleges and universities place more value in their football program and the on-campus college football weekend experience than the University of Pittsburgh?

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers played football in their on-campus Memorial Stadium from 1924-81. After 27 seasons of playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome two miles from campus, university leaders finally thought the better of it, and in 2009, the Golden Gophers returned to campus in their new TCF Bank Stadium. 

Plans are also underway to build new on-campus stadiums at Baylor and Colorado State, neither of which can match Pitt’s tradition and legacy of football.  

Pitt deserves more than temporary logos on the field and should have its own stadium with permanently painted logos and painted end zones of their own. It looks bad in Heinz Field, a stadium designed for an NFL team, with blindingly visible bright yellow seats during football telecasts.

There’s a charm in being on a college campus on game day. Heinz Field has a sterile, rented pro football feel to it, lacking in atmosphere in comparison to college stadiums.

Businesses in the Oakland community would benefit as well from thousands of Pitt fans descending upon Oakland for Pitt football games. With the games off campus, there’s no stopping to eat at a university restaurant or dining hall or at the bookstore to buy paraphernalia for the game. That’s revenue that could go toward the university’s coffers. 

If you’re going to build an on-campus stadium, it needs to be done right. The University of Houston is building an on-campus stadium that will seat 40,000 with expandability to 60,000 seats at an estimated cost of $105 million. Perhaps, a 50,000-seat stadium with the ability to expand if desired in the future is an option.

A stadium with a retractable roof would eliminate the excuse of fair weather fans who don’t want to sit out in the rain or the cold and watch a football game. An enclosed stadium of that size could also host the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament. 

Imagine the on-campus feel: the nostalgia, the homecoming. Picture the band marching through campus and the players walking through campus on their way to a state-of-the-art brand new facility. Imagine statues to Pitt’s football greats at each gate—Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka and Hugh Green with the fourth one up for debate: Larry Fitzgerald, Dan Marino, Bob Peck or perhaps Jock Sutherland. 

Back in 1999, Dorsett, Ditka and Dave Wannstedt, along with other former players and coaches, signed a statement condemning the demolition of Pitt Stadium. They knew that the players would waste time shuttling to and from campus to their practice facility. The football team has to bus to the South Side to practice, and then bus to the North Side to play their games.

Students can’t walk to the games. The students have to take a bus to the North Shore to Heinz Field and usually leave in droves after "Sweet Caroline" is played at the end of the third quarter. That’s usually the loudest and most enthusiastic the crowd is at Pitt games, and it’s short lived as the students leave to get on buses back to where? Pitt’s campus.

On-campus is where the students should be. It’s where the football team should be.