It’s part of the state’s third-biggest city in Nebraska on fall Saturdays and a good-sized town of 25,000 all on its own.
South Stadium, a giant wedge of Memorial Stadium, is fed by a couple of dedicated gates and sits atop classrooms used by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Its patrons include most of the Husker student section, a few fans of the opposing team and thousands of hardy Nebraska fans willing to march 90 rows to seats near the top.
On Saturday against Indiana, South Stadium was the part of the complex without frills — no video or ribbon boards, no luxury boxes.
“It’s like its own little stadium — it’s kind of weird,” Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts said at the Big Red Breakfast. “I didn’t even know that when I was playing.”
It’s the part of Memorial Stadium left relatively untouched by recent renovations. Meager widths for aisles and seats exist under grandfathered rules that will disappear when Nebraska starts to work on it. In fact, Alberts said, the total number of seats would have to reduce dramatically — in the thousands — to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act rules triggered when Nebraska begins major renovation.
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An executive committee — working through a draft that could reach the NU Board of Regents by next year — will focus on what to do with South Stadium and how, over several phases and years, to renovate with reduced disruption.
“If we want to do South Stadium, you want to tear down the whole stadium?” Alberts asked rhetorically. “What do you do with 25,000 people who don’t have a seat then? Just say, ‘Sorry about that, we’ll call you back in three years?’”
Of course not, Alberts said. Hence, the phases.
First, NU will balance what it really wants for a souped-up end zone project — Iowa, Utah, Texas and others already have them, while Wisconsin just finished one — with what those wants cost and how much donor money the school can get for its wish list.
Alberts said Husker athletics could — but will not — finance its debt for such a project through central NU administration, using Big Ten money to pay down what it owes over time. Such a plan passes on costs to the fans, though.
“Fundraising from private sources will be a significant part of it,” Alberts said.
Nebraska then has to fit end zone plans into its larger, ambitious Memorial Stadium vision.
NU will have a plan for addressing fans possessing premium seats who, under a grandfather clause, don’t currently pay a seat donation. It’ll have plenty of space to fill in West Stadium, too, once the new football building — set to be completed next summer — houses the training table and academic advisement center. After this season, Nebraska will also put seatbacks in the East Balcony — sandwiched between the East Stadium suites and first level — reducing capacity there.
And Alberts has a goal — perhaps a dream — to connect all four sides of Memorial Stadium with concourses that are common at most new arenas. A parent can walk around the entirety of Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, for example, when their kids get antsy. At a Husker basketball game, fans congregate in the north open end when they want to stretch.
In Memorial Stadium, staying in one place, 90 rows up, may not equate to much freedom, but there aren’t a lot of places to go, either.
An overhaul, over many years, would change that.
“We have to do it,” Alberts said. “It’s going to be tough, and not everybody’s going to love it. But I really want to have the concourses all connected. I’d love to have areas in South Stadium that are more reflective of what some of the modern amenities look like.”