Tuesday, April 9, 2013
New stadium changes perception of Baylor
By David Ubben
WACO, Texas -- When Art Briles looks out the back window of his office, he can see the here and now in the immediate foreground: His practice field.
Look a bit further, though, and there's a bunch of red dirt with the beginnings of a promising future sprouting from that dirt. Briles will have a front-row seat for the construction of what's now known as Baylor Stadium, the Bears' new 45,000-seat, $250 million home on the banks of the Brazos River.
"It’s a blessing, definitely. And it’s a reality," Briles told ESPN.com in a recent interview.
Fans can see the construction live, too, with the Bears' new construction cam.
The stadium is expected to open in 2014, and the beginning stages of construction already catch the eyes of the 42 million people who annually will pass by the stadium that will tower over the east side of I-35 in Waco.
"It’s a reality that Baylor didn’t need to have, it had to have, for first of all, national perception, regional perception and for recruiting purposes, not only for our athletics, but for our academics, because it certainly changed 42 million people’s view of Baylor University every time they drive down I-35," Briles said. "They look over there and they say, 'Baylor’s doing it right, all the way across the board.'"
The picturesque venue will feature a bridge across the river to the rest of campus, and based on renderings of the stadium, it will be one of the most scenic in all of college football. Like TCU's new rebuild of Amon G. Carter stadium, Baylor Stadium will include six Founder's suites, but also have 39 more suites, 74 boxes and 1,200 outdoor club seats.
"(People) know it’s a great academic university," Briles said. "I think it just upped peoples image of the university as a whole in their minds, no question."
Most importantly, the new stadium will eliminate the Bears' status as the Big 12's only team without an on-campus stadium. The 2013 season will be Baylor's last at Floyd Casey Stadium, located across I-35 and a few miles southwest of campus. Baylor employed Populous, the same company that helped design Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals), Reliant Stadium (Houston Texans) and the new Yankee Stadium in New York.
Baylor had not been to a bowl since 1994, two year's before the Big 12's creation, and in his first two seasons, Briles equaled Baylor's second-highest win total (4) since 1996. By his third season, the Bears were back in a bowl game. Heading into 2013, the Bears have reached three consecutive bowls for the first time in school history, winning the past two. Briles' efforts were aided by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III -- Baylor's first -- whose 2011 run to the trophy propelled the Bears onto the national stage, a place quite unfamiliar to the program before the arrival of Briles and Griffin.
More than a few folks would love to see Griffin's and/or Briles' name adorning the stadium or the field. Briles could only laugh at the prospect of the latter.
"I’m not one of those people. Now Robert’s name, I’d love to have," Briles said. "Our story hasn’t been written yet. All we’re concerned with is day-to-day operations of trying to be the best we can be every day."