The Ohio State board of trustees' Finance Committee heard the school's plan for a $9 million addition to Ohio Stadium on Thursday, the first such construction to the venerable Horseshoe that will change the size of the venue since it underwent a major facelift that was completed in 2001.
The full board must approve the project – which also includes the addition of permanent lights on both the east and west sides of the stadium – on Friday morning but is expected to rubber-stamp the measure, which will add 2,522 permanent seats.
"It is thinking long term," athletics director Gene Smith said after the meeting. "Financially, we're in a spot where we can do it, but we feel long-term that we've got to get it done at this point in time. We have a board that is willing to support us putting the lights in, so we might as well do this now. With the economies of scale and the construction, we can save a little bit of money here and there.
"We just felt it was the right time, and I wanted to get it done before we move to the nine-game conference schedule."
The plan might come the closest of any previous construction to changing the look of the horseshoe drawn up by architect Howard Dwight Smith that many fans have come to identify with the historic structure since it opened.
The seats, which will be attached to the bottom of the South Stands over the tunnels the players use to reach the field, do not connect with the horseshoe, though they come very close. In some ways, it will look like the horseshoe is "filled in," but in the end the shape of the iconic stadium will not change.
Exactly 1,261 seats will be added to the South Stands on each side, extending down to field level.
"We tried to be real careful (with the horseshoe), which is why we did what we did over the tunnels," Smith said. "It actually won't connect to the east and west side. There will be a gap there, so we're not really touching that. There was sensitivity to that, but we think with this, it won't lose it."
Smith said he hopes to move students from the closed north end of the stadium to the South Stands, which will now hold around 19,000 fans, to add to the atmosphere of the building. Another part of the plan is to find a way to form a corporate partnership to provide some of the now-open north side seats to Columbus-area youth groups.
"It will be for youth groups in our community who just don't get into the ‘Shoe," Smith said. "Hopefully we can give them a tour of the academic buildings the morning of the game then they go to the football game, so we can build a nice program around that. I think it'll be pretty cool."
Capacity will increase to 104,851 officially, leaving it behind only Michigan Stadium (109,901) and Penn State's Beaver Stadium (106,572) in college football. However, Ohio Stadium's current max crowd is 106,102, set during last year's night game vs. Nebraska, meaning the venue could hold nearly 109,000 attendees for future big games.
Citing a variety of reasons including improved scheduling, Smith said his department does not expect the school to have trouble selling all the seats.
"What we're doing in scheduling that is coming down the road with what I hope and anticipate Urban and the kids will do on the field and our growing community … I just think the constituencies are always there," said Smith, who said the OSU Alumni Association might receive more seats for its annual lottery as well.
The permanent lights will allow the school the flexibility to schedule more night games in the future. Ohio State currently rents portable lighting for night contests, but the school hopes to host at least two in many years going forward starting in 2013.
Smith confirmed to the committee today that the Big Ten's new television deal will allow night games in November, which previously had been banned under conference rules. However, Smith said he still does not expect the season-ending clash with rival Michigan to take place under the lights.
"I really just can't see us doing that," Smith said. "When we were talking about this as ADs with our commissioner, (Michigan athletics director) Dave Brandon and I were on the same page. I think it's too risky. At times, you have to be realistic relative to what we can handle. I think we can handle Nebraska, all the other games, but (Michigan is) too unique."
The project will cost $9 million, with construction expected to begin in January and run through August 2014. Bidding for the construction is expected to finish by the end of the year.
The stadium is currently undergoing a large maintenance project to replace the coverings on the original stadium concrete in the seating bowl. Much of the covering layer – which keeps moisture out of the 90-plus-year-old original concrete – had worn away over the past decade through heavy use. The project is expected to be largely concluded in time for this upcoming season, and all seats will be back in the stadium in time for kickoff.
Last summer, the scoreboard and sound systems were upgraded at a cost of $7 million, and cell-phone antennas to increase gameday coverage are also being added.
The stadium, known as "The House that Harley Built" in honor of late-1910s star Chic Harley, opened in 1922 with a capacity of 66,210.
The board is also approving at this time funding for the new $35 million Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute, which will be constructed near the athletics campus on Ackerman Road from July 2014 to December 2015.