The ever-escalating arms race of football facilities has finally reached Lincoln.
And the $155 million expansion attached to Memorial Stadium represents the University of Nebraska's massive investment into this game. Last week’s announcement aligned with the buzz of a marquee matchup that garnered attention nationwide.
Given Nebraskans’ desire to see the Huskers once again winning conference and national titles in football – since neither has occurred within the entire lives of the athletes coaches are trying to recruit – this upgrade pairs with big-name coaching hires as proof that the school wants to belong with the elite.
The price tag no doubt shocked some people initially. Nowadays, though, that’s the cost to play with the big boys, as evidenced by a race that has passed Nebraska since before its last upgrades in 2006. And the general vibe among fans is that they’re willing to pay up to play up to that level.
Much of the criticism has focused on concerns athletic ambitions are eclipsing the academic mission of the land-grant university.
But more money is being pumped into a pair of projects within UNL’s College of Engineering ($160 million) than to the North Stadium expansion ($155 million, part of more than half a billion dollars of growth at Nebraska’s flagship campus.
While a complex for student-athletes affects a smaller portion of the student body than the academic improvements, don't discount its effect.
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A 2012 study by Brigham Young University found that the test scores of applicants to universities increased following successful seasons by those schools’ highest-profile athletic programs. The University of Alabama, meanwhile, has parlayed football feats into becoming one of the nation’s fastest-growing colleges.
As Nebraska faces a workforce shortage in several vital industries, it needs every means to attract students, who are more likely to stay in the state if they attend college here.
The fact that only $100 million of the $155 million required for the expansion will be privately raised may trouble some readers at first glance. But the money would come solely from athletic department revenue bonds and trust funds – not public sources, a luxury far from universal in college sports.
Only 11 of the 230 Division I athletic programs with publicly available finances turned a profit in 2018 without receiving any subsidy from the university or students, according to USA Today’s database. One was NU ($6.59 million), whose athletic department annually returns about $5 million to the university.
If taxes or tuition were being raised to pay for a football facility, we'd be among the first to criticize this project. Instead, the combination of private donations and athletic revenues – earmarked for this specific use, rather than UNL as a whole – give us no reason to oppose it.
Sparkling facilities certainly don’t generate wins or losses on their own. But they’ve become the price of admission into a select club Husker fans clearly want to rejoin.