Stanford Stadium 2.0

Several different reports have floated recently surrounding the construction of a new Stanford Stadium. This is too important of a story and subject to let confusion reign. Here is the straight skinny on the timeframe and design features of the football stadium project, which is the crown jewel of Stanford Athletics' recent facilities upgrades.

Who says June is a slow month for Stanford Football?  Last week brought the long-awaited revelation on the recruiting saga for 2005 tight end Erik Lorig, who ultimately committed to the Cardinal.  Monday, the Board of Trustees met and approved the plans for the Stanford Stadium project.  While Lorig's recruitment gripped Cardinalmaniacs™ for months, diehard Stanford supporters have been waiting years for a new stadium.

Before we take a dive into the design for the new stadium, it is equally interesting to explore the timeline.  The price tag for the construction is currently tagged at $85-90 million, though there is one outstanding issue between Stanford and Santa Clara County that could add another $10 million or more to the project.  One source told The Bootleg Monday, however, that this issue may be resolving favorably.

A significant amount of the funding is in place, though the athletic development office still has work to do.  The driving force behind the stadium is the biggest man in Stanford Athletics: alumnus and former basketball player John Arrillaga (Class of '60).  Monday's approval from the Board of Trustees was not a surprise, and any further internal University politicking will likely pale in comparison to the monstrous momentum that Arrillaga brings to this project.  The billionaire real estate developer, landscaping aficionado and philanthropist has been a leading benefactor for bringing buildings to campus not only for athletics but also for other areas of the school.

While reports recently in local newspapers have been focused on a construction timeline for the new Stanford Stadium that would be completed for the 2007 football season, we have heard for some time that Arrillaga has his heart set on completing the project for the fall of 2006.  Whether that finish date is September 1 or October 1, we should see Stanford Football played in a new stadium in the 2006 season.  If Arrillaga wants it, it will be done.  If double shifts and/or 24-hours shifts have to be employed, so be it.

The goal is to have the new stadium ready for the first home game of 2006.  When that first home game will be held is itself a moving target.  With the permanent addition of a 12th game to Division I schedules starting with that '06 season, schools and conference are reworking their schedules.  What we currently know to be the 2006 Stanford Football schedule puts three of the six home games that year in the month of September, but that may change.  We may also see provisional locations chosen for one or two of the earliest games, should the new stadium not be finished by the first couple weeks of September.  In parallel fashion, we saw the Leavey Center on Santa Clara's campus scheduled for the men's and women's basketball entire preseason home schedule, though when the new Maples Pavilion was finished early, several of those games moved back to The Farm.

The start date for the stadium project is more certain.  Expect crews to move in on November 26 - a date that rings familiar.  That is the Saturday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when the Cardinal will host Notre Dame in the final game of the 2005 regular season.  I remember the final home game in 2004 of the men's basketball regular season played at the old Maples Pavilion.  By the time I emerged from the media room after my post-game coverage duties, I saw a mass of workers disassembling and carrying out every imaginable piece of the old basketball/volleyball facility.  Not an hour was wasted in getting started on that renovation project, which also carried an aggressive timeline that allowed nearly every home game of the subsequent men's and women's basketball seasons to be played at the new Maples Pavilion.  When the final gun sounds at the end of the November 26 Stanford-Notre Dame game, you would be best served to make haste for the exits before a bulldozer puts a hitch in your step.

Enough with the logistics; let's get to the meat.

100th Big Game in 1997

There have been a number of different capacities reported in the local papers, but the size we have heard repeatedly is 50,800.  That is a significant downsizing from the current 85,000-person capacity of Stanford Stadium, but that capacity was built three-quarters of a century ago for a community in a very different age of college football and Bay Area sports.  The last time Stanford Stadium sold out was the 100th Big Game in 1997, and we might very well have to wait for another milestone of that rivalry before the "old lady" would sell out again.  Consider the fact that during the famed Rose Bowl run in 1999, the stadium did not sell out for Big Game despite the opportunity for the Cardinal to secure their first Rose Bowl in nearly three decades.  And after winning the Pac-10's berth into the New Year's Day classic, Stanford still could not sell out the Notre Dame game the following Saturday.

It is a time and age for a smaller capacity with better proximity and sightlines.  The acknowledged model is Oregon's Autzen Stadium, which has a closed bowl that wraps 360º around the field - unlike the open end currently in the south endzone at Stanford Stadium.  Another problem to rectify is the track that currently separates the fans from the field, which was perhaps admirable during the heyday of the stadium as a track & field facility, but collegiate and professional meets are now held at the adjacent world-class Cobb Track & Angell Field.

There will be no track in the new stadium, and the seats will be brought within a stone's throw of the sidelines.  There was reportedly discussion as to whether there would be a few extra feet added to the width of the sideline areas, which would make the total size of the field big enough to host international soccer (the "other football") matches, but we hear the decision was made forgo any soccer hosting and keep the dimensions as tight as possible for Stanford Football.

The 50,800 base capacity is not a ceiling on what the new stadium will be able to host, however.  There are temporary stands which can be added to the north endzone, with reported ranges of 9,000 to 13,000 more seats.  That could allow crowds in the neighborhood of 64,000 for the traditionally heavily attended games against USC, Cal and Notre Dame.

To bring fans closer to the action, the grade of the bowl will be steeper than that currently at Stanford Stadium.  That steeper grade will be partially accomplished by filling some of the sides of the bowl with dirt (a good deal of which will come from a simultaneous underground construction project on campus).  Additionally, the field will be lowered 8-10 feet below its existing level.  The lowered field will no longer be suitable for natural grass, due to the water table.  Thus, the next incarnation of Stanford Stadium will have an artificial surface, of the "Field Turf" generation seen in a rising number of college and NFL stadiums.

Big Games have brought riots

There will be drop of approximately six feet from the level of the first (lowest) row in the stadium to the level of the playing field.  That can accomplish two things.  First, it improves sight lines for the lower rows in the stadium.  In the current Stanford Stadium, a study determined that the game viewing experience in the lowest 14 rows was so poor that they have been removed from ticket sales the last few years.  Second, the six-foot drop from the stands to the field provide a barrier to fans rushing the field, which has been a problem with visiting students in the Cal section in several editions of the last decade of Big Game.  Currently a large, unsightly fence surrounds the field, but that fence may not be needed in the new stadium with a guard rail and the drop to the field.

One pox of the current stadium is the bench seating, which is narrow and lacks any backs for comfort.  Just as the bench seating in Sunken Diamond, and then the bench seating in Maples Pavilion, gave way to chair backs, so too will be the case in Stanford Stadium.  There is still discussion as to whether some or all seats in the new stadium will have backs, and whether those with backs will all have arm rests.  It is believed that at a minimum we will see backs and arm rests for all seats along the sidelines.  The endzone seats are a more open question.

Seats will not only have greater comfort; they will have added space with larger dimensions.  The current seat width is 17 inches, but the new seats will be 20-21 inches wide.  (That is not license to stop your diet.)  Your legs are currently cramped with 24 inches of depth in Stanford Stadium, whereas the new seats will be 30-31 inches deep.

One challenge in tightening up the configuration of the stadium and reducing the capacity is seat location.  You would think that scads of seats currently along the sidelines would be pushed into the endzones of the new stadium.  However, reportedly there will be approximately as many seats between the goallines in the new stadium as we have today.  That will be partially achieved by employing a second deck along the sidelines.  That idea may conjure visions of Husky Stadium, which is the most famed double-deck stadium configuration on the West Coast, if not in the country.  The new Stanford Stadium will be different, however.  The second deck will not hang over any seats of the lower level.  It will instead cover an open-air concourse for residents of the lower level.

For those living in the upper deck, fear not.  You, too, will have a walkway of your own.  A scenic viewing area will be constructed behind the top row of the upper deck, providing access not only to amenities but also providing a captivating vantage of Silicon Valley and the Bay.  These walkways will not only handle traffic but also become social destinations for Cardinalmaniacs™.

The endzone seating will reportedly be all one level, but it will bring fans much closer to the action than what Stanford Stadium affords today.  Not only does the track push endzone denizens away from the action, but also the oval shape of the stadium leaves a large open space between the track and the endzone.  The endzone seating in the new stadium will not be continuous with the sideline seating, and instead will be packed in.

To punctuate the improvement of the endzone seating: the current design would put a fan in the top row on the new stadium closer to the field than a fan in the lowest row of the current stadium.  That's impressive.

Jumbotron deserves better

Speaking of endzones, there currently is a gap in multimedia visual experience between those in the north and south ends of the stadium.  The north endzone contains the brand new million-dollar jumbotron recently donated by a generous alumnus, while the south endzone scoreboard lacks any video capability.  We hear that a second dazzling jumbotron will be added, giving vibrant video and replay capabilities in both endzones, visible by fans sitting anywhere in the stadium.

It goes without saying that the concessions and restrooms will be brought into the new century with the new stadium.  (Some might say they never measured up for the last century.)

Stanford Stadium will also get a new press box, which is of keen interest to this credentialed writer.  Perhaps improved amenities and facilities will entice better attendance by the local press in covering the Cardinal.  The press box also currently hosts privileged guests of the University and Athletic Department on its lowest level, and that will again be the case with the new construction.  Though it has been erroneously suggested by one local sportswriter that Stanford will add "luxury boxes," this section will be home to the VIP crowd.  Its capacity is not voluminous, currently at approximately 300, but will grow by an added 100 in the new press box.

While this does not paint every detail of the new stadium, it certainly conveys the excitement of both the substance and timing with which a new Stanford Stadium will come to The Farm.  It is the latest and greatest of the Stanford sports facilities given us by an explosion of unmatched construction and renovation in the last decade: Maples Pavilion, Sunken Diamond, Boyd & Jill Smith Family Stadium (softball), Maloney Field (soccer), Steuber Rugby Stadium, Cobb Track & Angell Field, Avery Aquatic Center and Taube Family Tennis Stadium.

This is also the fourth major facilities upgrade for Stanford Football alone in the last three years.  In 2002 the Cardinal built a new weight room as well as a new locker room.  At this moment they are upgrading to a new practice field, though Stanford already boasted one of the best in the West.

Exciting times, indeed.  As more details become public (starting with a probable press conference this week), this will be the major news story in Stanford Athletics to follow in the coming year.  We look forward to keeping you informed as it evolves.

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