Expanding Martin

BUILDING A NICE facility or two isn't enough in college athletics. Just ask Robin Pflugrad, assistant head football coach at Washington State. Or ask John Johnson, the university's assistant Athletic Director. It was a subject both addressed passionately during the South Sound Cougar Club Winter Celebration earlier this month in Lacey.

"Facilities have helped us (land recruits)," Pflugrad said. "It is an ongoing race, and we have to continue that. Five or six years ago we were up to third or fourth (in the Pac-10). Now we're maybe eighth or even 10th again."

Johnson spoke of the need for growth -- including financial -- in his department while at the Lacey event. A large chunk of Johnson's time was spent discussing the $54 million Martin Stadium expansion plan.

"We want facilities, salaries and resources for our coaches and students to be in the top 20 percent of nationally ranked Division I schools," Johnson said. "We want post-season participation by all sports. And we want to do it with integrity."

While he's only been on the job a few months, Johnson believes WSU has the people in place to help the program grow. "Expenditures at WSU are behind average for Division I and the Pac-10," he noted. "We have been competitive, but we need to grow the program."

Johnson said the athletic budget at WSU is $23 million, compared to the $35 million average among Pac-10 schools. Nationally, Johnson said the average budget for Division I schools is $27 million.

A few facilities are being worked on, but the highest priority is Martin Stadium. The main goals of expansion are to provide sufficient amenities, resolve circulation deficiencies (allow for people to walk all the way around the stadium), provide more revenue generating opportunities, create an architectural identity, and increase overall seat count.

Driving the need for the increased seat count was three straight 10-win seasons, which led to season tickets being sold out for the first time in 2004. There are 700 fans on the waiting list for tickets.

Current seating capacity at Martin Stadium is 35,700. Johnson said the expansion would boost that number to 42,500 plus club seats and suites.

Changes would be most evident on the alumni or press box side of the stadium. The press box and top 25 percent of seats on that side of the stadium would be taken out and moved forward to create double deck seating.

A marketing firm will contact school donors, polling about what would be wanted in the stadium, the ratio of suites to club seats and more. "We think we'll have more club areas than suites," Johnson noted. "Cougs like to gather."

To pay for the expansion, Johnson said the goal is to secure $25 million from contributions, with the remaining $30 million in the form of a bond. "We feel the stadium could bring in $5 million a year in new revenue if we're able to fill it," Johnson said.

Since he was speaking to a room of approximately 150 Cougar donors, Johnson encouraged those listening to continue their habits. "Continue to give," he said. "Give even more if you'd like."

Providing sufficient amenities includes adding new permanent restrooms around the stadium. "We would be at NFL levels for restrooms for 80 percent of the stadium," Johnson pointed out.

Expansion plans are currently in the conceptual design phase and construction could start after the 2006 season. While excited about the plans, Johnson emphasized he and others in his department recognize the plans need to continue to be sold.

"We need to do a good job at the grassroots level selling the program," he said.

In addition to the renovation of the stadium itself, plans are also underway to modernize the ticket process. "Fans will be able to order tickets online, and e-mail tickets to friends across the country," Johnson said. "We're wanting to get into the 1990s."

Overall, Johnson believes it is certainly time to renovate Martin Stadium. "Our fans deserve better," he said. "Our program deserves better. This is the most challenging project our university has taken on."

Pflugrad also feels the Cougar faithful deserve such facilities as a renovated Martin Stadium, and noted the long trek Cougs in the I-5 corridor make to attend games in Pullman.

"The westside Cougars are awesome," he said. "To do that trip for every home game is incredible.

"I like the ideas for the stadium expansion," Pflugrad added. "It will be a great size. It will be an intimate setting, which is nice. You don't want it too big."

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