The University of Oklahoma is moving ahead with its plans to renovate Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. As we first reported, the most noticeable of many changes will be a south end zone that will be completely bowled in. Other phases of construction will produce new and upgrade some existing facilities as the completion of the long-talked-about bowl is but one aspect of a project that is expected to begin after the 2014 season and cost in the neighborhood of $350 million dollars.
Multiple sources who are either directly involved or who have knowledge of the overall Master Plan and this specific endeavor told us that they expected the regents to be in position to vote today to officially authorize the department to go into a "planning stage." However, not everyone who needs to sign off on the project is able to attend todays meeting and nothing will be formally addressed. One high-ranking person with direct knowledge put it this way: "It's coming. And it's gonna be big time. It's just a matter of dotting the i's and crossing the t's and getting the politics out of the way."
While tedious and lengthy discussions will no doubt take place, no less than seven sources have confirmed that getting official approval will be nothing more than a formality. A lot of work has gone into planning and potential funding. And although the bid process has not begun and will take months to complete, none of the people we've spoken with—even those who are slow to buy into the plan--denies that the stamp of approval is coming and the shovels will begin digging. At some point, that is.
The stadium construction will be one of several phases of the overall project and will be done during a time of the year that least impacts the game day crowd. There are multiple layers to the plan that will result in direct upgrading amenities for the athletes and fans.
As we reported earlier, a new state-of-the-art weight room will be added. New suites in the bowled-in south end zone will be constructed. Existing suites will be upgraded. There is a plan to build a new press box that would deliver a modern and expansive facility stretching below the west side upper deck.
I'm told "a great deal of research has gone into new stadium planning at other universities and sky boxes are being replaced as an idea with some kind of 'lounge' seating. In addition, amenities are becoming very important including chair back seating. A new weight room is a must. But how that will be built and tied into the end zone is not at this moment written in stone."
Also not written in stone is what the final capacity will be once changes are completed. While there will be new seating to complete the bowl, there will also be current seats that will come down. Multiple sources have told us the they'd been in discussions where thousands of seats would be added. Others insist that the real possibility exists that after these new seats are added and the others subtracted the net number may not change much. But nothing is official at this point.
Predictably, some are questioning the funding, pointing to proposed higher education budget cuts and possible tuition increases. But the facts are that Oklahoma's athletic department is one of but a handful of schools that is self-supporting which equates. This project does not take any funding away from any other department or affect the budget of the university. While fundraising will officially be put into place following official approval, the fact of the matter is that the powers that be have not gotten this far down the tracks without having a good handle on where to go for the bulk of the money. With the leadership of Athletics Director Joe Castiglione, the football program not only pays for itself, but for a decade now has contributed tens of millions of dollars back to the school for non-athletic use.
So the big-picture plan is set and will undoubtedly proceed ahead. Now it's just a matter of making sure all those who need-to-know are in-the-know. Meantime, you can bet that coaches are on the recruiting trail as you read this, selling the idea that Oklahoma football has a bright and shiny future. Figuratively. And literally.