Size matters: The building boom continues for bigger, better Big 12 athletic facilities

From Baylor to Texas to West Virginia, upgrading athletic facilities has been all the rage. And Texas A&M, other state schools are building, too.

Posted August 18th, 2018

Story highlights
  • Texas A&M's $500 million renovation to Kyle Field three years ago has given the Aggies' the biggest stadium in the SEC.
  • Earlier this month, UT's board of regents OK'd a $175 million upgrade to close off the south end zone of Royal-Memorial Stadium.
  • Twelve years ago, UT's "Godzillatron" was the biggest video scoreboard in the world. Now UT's big board ranks 48th.

Jimbo Fisher inherited a palace of a football stadium when he accepted the job at Texas A&M.

The Aggies are three years removed from finishing a $500 million renovation of Kyle Field, giving them the largest stadium in the Southeastern Conference and one of the biggest in the country.

But in the big business of college football, building booms never end. So a beautiful palace never can be enough. It’s like a constant loop of reno shows on HGTV. Other sports besides football need spiffier spaces, too. Recruits, the lifeblood of a program, want gaudy. Donors demand what the rival is showing off.


“When you build facilities, the worst thing you can do is stop,” Fisher said last week. His school’s most recent projects include new stadiums for softball and track at a cost of $69 million.

Schools can pay for the construction through a mixture of money raised from bonds and/or private donations. And schools in Power 5 leagues are getting lucrative annual payments from their conferences. Each Big 12 school received $36.5 million in conference revenue for the recently completed athletic year. That payment doesn’t include what each school collects in its third-tier rights.

Sports then generate big money. For example, Texas generated nearly $215 million in athletic revenue for last year. That led the country.

The University of Texas Longhorn fans were thrilled for their Horns as they defeated the Rice Owls 52-10 Saturday night. Bevo is seen on the scoreboard/ godzillatron at the Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

Texas hit pause on major football construction projects almost a decade ago. But earlier this month, the UT board of regents approved a $175 million refurbishment project for Royal-Memorial Stadium. Once finished, the near century-old venue will feature another stadium club that will stretch the length of the south end zone. It’ll be similar to the posh field-level club the Dallas Cowboys have at AT&T Stadium.

There will be eight suites surrounding a gigantic new video board. To show how quickly the college athletic construction is evolving, a dozen years ago, UT premiered its “Godzillatron” scoreboard in the south end zone. It was the largest in the world. Now UT’s big board ranks 48th.

UT athletic director Chris Del Conte previously had announced that $10 million had been raised to build a hall of honor in the north end zone of the stadium. He also made a big push to renovate the football complex in the south end zone. He told a crowd of boosters: “Do you realize that building was built for John Mackovic (who coached from 1992-97)? That’s four coaches ago. Hel-l-o.”

A Texas A&M Aggies fan takes a photo of the exterior of Kyle Field before the start of the Texas A&M Aggies and the Ball State Cardinals game at Kyle Field on September 12, 2015 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Since UT last did major football construction, A&M has re-imagined Kyle Field, Baylor built $266 million McLane Stadium on the banks of the Brazos River, TCU gutted, then re-did art deco Amon Carter at a cost of $164 million and Houston completed TDECU Stadium for $128 million.

And more is planned around the state. And in the Big 12. And across the country.

“Bigger, better, shinier. I think that’s the way it’s going,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said in describing the construction trends. “Anything that you can attract recruits with, we’re going to be wanting it and I think you’re going to see that continued to move in that direction. Any way you can differentiate yourself from a facilities standpoint would be a positive for your program.”

Among Big 12 schools:

  • Baylor is contemplating either building a new basketball arena or renovating the Ferrell Center at a cost of up to $80 million. New team areas for volleyball and the acrobatic and tumbling squads also are being considered.

Football coach Matt Rhule would love a new complex devoted to just football.

“I think if I could do one thing for us in terms of our facilities, it would be a football-only building,” Rhule said. “And that’s two-fold, having our own weight room, having our own training room would be ideal. … My wish list — everybody would have their own facility, which is what I had at Temple, what we had at Penn State.

“Just like the weight room, the training room, meeting rooms, having it all self-contained. That would be mine if I could pick.”

  • Iowa State’s regents recently approved projects that will cost up to $80 million that will include expansion of the football stadium’s north end zone entrance and team complex along with a new academic and sports nutrition center.
  • Kansas is in the midst of a $300 million building revival that will include new stadiums for softball, soccer, tennis and track. The football stadium will feature premium seating in both end zones and a $3 million refurbishment of the team’s complex, plus a new indoor practice area.
  • Kansas State is building a new soccer stadium and refurbishing its baseball complex. Total cost: $15 million.
  • Oklahoma is finishing the last touches of its $160 million south end zone project at its football stadium. A new video board in the north end zone will be ready for the season home opener. The athletic department also is dedicating its $7 million Griffin Family Performance Center for basketball next weekend.

The school’s regents also decided to build a new $22 million softball stadium.

Oklahoma State is in the midst of building a new $60 million baseball stadium and will open a soccer arena this fall.

An artist’s rendering of what TCU’s revamped Amon Carter Stadium will look like once its facelift is complete. It should be ready for the 2019 season. (Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics)
  • TCU is planning another major expansion of Amon Carter. This summer, the athletic department announced that it will spend $100 million to add two new levels of luxury seating. There will be two new private clubs, 48 loge boxes, 22 luxury suites and 1,000 club seats.

The new stadium addition also will feature a 100-foot outdoor balcony that will allow fans to view the Frog Alley fan area, the campus and downtown Fort Worth. There also will be a new video board erected in the north end zone.

Gary Patterson said the stadium renovations aren’t part of an “arms race for recruiting.” Rather, he said it puts TCU in better position if the college athletic world is rocked again by conference expansion.

“Yeah, it’s going to make our stadium nicer,” Patterson said. “And it’s going to give a better experience for fans and people who are up there (in the suites and club areas). The other thing is how does TCU take care of TCU?

“So when we all change conferences again, if they decide in six years that all this TV stuff goes in the other direction … if there’s anybody who had a good feeling to change conferences and do it, it’ll be people at TCU. If we don’t have the vision to understand we better take care of everything we need to take care of, if we’re arrogant enough to think “oh … we’re in,” we’d better go look back in our past. ‘Cause we weren’t in the Big 12 when they first started.”

  • Texas Tech is installing new surfaces for its football training complex. Last fall, Tech opened a $48 million Sports Performance Center that houses the indoor practice area for the football team and a track complex with seating for 1,500 fans. It also features a sports medicine center and one for nutrition.

Also on the agenda — building a basketball practice facility and an indoor tennis complex. More renovations are planned for the baseball stadium, the football training area and the south end zone of Jones Stadium.

  • West Virginia is planning for $45 million in upgrades to its football complex.

Other non-Power 5 schools in Texas are upgrading their sports stadiums, too.

Houston has refurbished stadiums, fields and training areas for all its sports. Its major project now is a renovation of the Fertitta Center, which had been basketball’s old Hofheinz Pavilion. SMU has spent $120 million on athletic construction projects for all its sports since 2013. That includes a new $47 million Miller Event Center. Texas-El Paso is renovating the Sun Bowl, adding a new press box and a terrace area that will feature club seats, loge boxes and outdoor cantinas.

Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard concedes that his school may be 20 years behind every one else in the state.

Karlgaard hired Mike Bloomgren, the former Stanford offensive coordinator, as the Owls’ new football coach. Rice has plans to add suites and club areas to Rice Stadium for the first time, but the Owls still are raising funds to make the project happen. Two years ago, Rice debuted its $31 million sports performance center.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder doesn’t like the building boom trend.

“I think sometimes we lose our sense of priority in regards to what really is important,” Snyder said. “That’s not to say that football and facilities isn’t important because it certainly is. You look at it from a standpoint of if I’m a professor at a university I’m going to ask the question, what’s really important here? Is it education or is it football?”

Snyder also added “all of the things that we do that manifest themselves in the game of college football, so much of it is directed by dollars and cents. To me, that’s unfortunate.”