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Texas-sized re-fitting of Cowboys Stadium

12/18/2009

ARLINGTON, Texas -- No one wants to put a pricetag on converting Jerry Jones’ ode to football gluttony from a gridiron palace to a basketball penthouse, but let’s put it this way: It cost more for that crazy scoreboard that runs from one 20-yard line to the other than it did to build Texas Stadium in Irving.

So it’s safe to say the remodel of Cowboys Stadium for Saturday's game between Texas and North Carolina isn’t coming on the cheap.

Dana O'Neil/ESPN

Cowboys Stadium is being readied for North Carolina-Texas on Saturday.

The final preparations were going on while the Longhorns took to the elevated court here for practice on Friday afternoon, with workers installing the last of the risers for the baseline seats and unrolling the last bit of brand-new carpet to cover a floor usually swathed in turf.

This is something of a test run for the Cowboys (though they’re understandably loathe to call a game between two top 10 programs, with an expected crowd in the 35,000-range a test run). In February, the NBA is expected to attract 80,000 of its closest fans to the stadium for the All-Star Game and NBA folks have been in Dallas all week, seeing how things are going. They’ll be here on Saturday, too.

In 2013, the Cowboys will host an NCAA regional and in 2014, the Final Four comes to town. NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt will be here to check it out for his folks.

“This wasn’t scheduled as a dress rehearsal, but there’s no question there’s a benefit for us having the opportunity to host this game,’’ said Cowboys’ spokesman Brett Daniels. “It’s more of a luxury to have this game. These are the sort of major happenings we want to have here.’’

The lengthy conversion process began on Sunday, not long after the Cowboys' loss to the San Diego Chargers. Workers immediately pulled up the turf and prepped the floor for the 8,600 seats that would cover it.

On Tuesday, workers gathered four smaller (or more accurately, normal-sized at a mere 15x24) scoreboards that usually hang on the scaffolds outside the glassed plaza endzone area, constructing a scoreboard box to hang beneath the insanely huge board that dominates the stadium.

The reason? Two-fold. The one thing Jones’ $1.5 billion little gym doesn’t have is a real scoreboard, so there was no place to put in-game stats.

And two, if the people on the floor seats were forced to look up at the monster board, Cowboys’ employees would have to hand out neck braces at the doors.

On Wednesday, it was time for the court. The Cowboys aren’t using the NCAA configuration for this game -- Daniels said it was a lengthier process, involving a different slope to the seats that would make it difficult with the time crunch presented by the Cowboys game -- so the floor will be just 25 ½ inches off the court as compared to the last Final Four floor (36 feet).

Painted especially for this game, the court will be taken apart and shipped immediately to Michigan, where it will be sanded, repainted and reused for the All-Star game.

The court setup still will be an awkward spot for coaches. They can either make like a baseball manager in a dugout and coach from the bench below the court or grab a stool and sit on the court, where they look like they should be playing guitar a la a folksy James Taylor.

But along with the obvious big-ticket items, there are plenty of other smaller changes that had to add up. There are 36 new speakers hanging beneath the big scoreboard, brought in because the NFL doesn’t necessitate noise and sound from the floor like basketball does.

The floor level on Friday had the unmistakable smell of new carpet as workers laid rolls and rolls of the stuff around the court, floor seating and press areas.

Daniels said they also had to bring in portable restrooms and extra concessions. Ordinarily the only people on the floor are the Cowboys and their opponents. Tony Romo usually isn’t hunting for a hot dog during the game.

And don't forget: people had to do this work. Presumably they were all paid for it.

So how much?

“Oh, I wouldn’t even want to venture a guess,’’ Daniels said. “Some of it, like the court, was done in conjunction with the NBA, so it would be really hard to put a number to it.’’

Our guess: It has a Texas-sized amount of zeroes at the back end.