CU conducts survey on football stadium upgrades

Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado

It’s been less than a decade since the University of Colorado Boulder erected a controversial and costly expansion of its football stadium, but despite being in debt with the campus and president’s office, the athletics department is conducting a survey about what improvements it wants to make next.

The CU-Boulder athletics department has retained outside consultant Pursuant Sports to conduct an online survey asking constituents questions like whether the renovation of Folsom Stadium should be the department’s top priority, and whether they would be willing to donate to such a project. An email with a link to the survey was sent to supporters and others on Aug. 17. Athletics Director Mike Bohn told Boulder Weekly that he doesn’t know how much the survey is costing, but he said the expense is being covered by the CU Foundation.

Similarly, CU officials are quick to point out that any improvements to athletics facilities will not be funded by tuition or other state or campus revenues; they will be completely paid for by the athletics department and its independent revenue streams.

It’s understandable that they want this message out, given past projects of this kind. Questions about who might end up paying for the possible renovation and expansion arise because of projects like the 2003 addition to Folsom Stadium, which not only elicited the ire of prominent faculty at the time but prompted a financial bailout of the department.

Not to mention the poor timing surrounding the project’s completion and the 2004 publicity about the sexrelated football recruiting scandal that rocked the university and reportedly contributed to the firing or resignation of the head coach, athletics director, chancellor and president.

The $42 million expansion of the stadium in 2003 involved the addition of 41 luxury boxes and 1,863 club seats, which were expected to bring in enough money to pay for the project in the long run.

But the athletics department has periodically required bailouts from the university ever since.

In 2006, after one faculty leader referred to the project as a “stadium monstrosity,” and after CU Nobel Prize winner Carl Wieman ripped the campus publicly for being more beholden to athletics issues than its academic mission, the university agreed to provide the athletics department an additional$3.5 million to balance its budget. According to reports, a portion of that was dedicated to the stadium expansion bonds, in part because only about 35 percent of the club seats had been sold that year.

The Camera has subsequently reported that the amount the campus loaned the department in 2006 was $8 million, reflecting the amount it had to pay to former coach Gary Barnett in the financial settlement related to his departure following the scandal.

In addition, according to Camera reports this past spring, the campus and president’s office loaned the athletics department a total of $10 million to help cover expenses associated with moving to the Pac-12 Conference in 2011, not including a related $6 million from those two entities that doesn’t need to be repaid.

So, given the background, it’s understandable that Bohn, the athletic director, doesn’t want to say much about the proposed renovation and expansion. Much less the survey.

“Any time you have the opportunity to engage a broad-based number of constituents — so that’s alumni, donors, faculty, staff, season ticket holders — to give you a read on the progress you’re making and the opportunities maybe that exist, it’s a wonderful tool to help us strategize additional initiatives or opportunities for improvement,” Bohn told BW when asked about the survey. “I think it’s about our effort to be aligned with our key constituents that are vital to not only the athletics program, but the institution.”

Despite the fact that public Board of Regents documents about ideas for the expansion and renovation — from a covered north endzone with additional seating and an underground parking area to an indoor practice facility and an expanded Dal Ward Center — have been reported by the Camera, Bohn declines to utter their names, for fear of blowback.

“I’m not at liberty to talk about our different concepts,” he says. “It’s premature at this time to reveal those plans or concepts because they’re simply that, at this point.”

Bohn describes the proposed improvements only generally, saying they are about enhancing the fan and student-athlete experience.

When asked how he plans to balance proposed improvements with the current debt situation, he says, “Obviously, the increased revenue associated with the move to the Pac-12 Conference is a part of it, but that’s also why this study is important for us to gauge the viability of potentially increased support from donors and alumni, and for fans to support the program, to help us get a gauge of where the intensity of interest is.”

He says he expects the results of the survey by the end of September, but that there is no timeline for when proposals for the project would go forward.

“I would think the next steps are really undefined at this point, and we have a lot of different pieces moving in unison that we have work to do with yet,” he says.

He was similarly non-committal about what kind of balancing act he’s going to have to do to sell this political football to disparate groups like the regents, faculty, football boosters and alumni.

“I think that’s yet to be seen, and that’s part of the process we’re going through at this point,” Bohn says.

He was sure about one thing, though: Unlike the last expansion project, no funds from the state, tuition or campus administration will ever be used to pay for the improvements.

“There’s no question that’s the directive from the chancellor, and I believe he’s stated that publicly and made it very clear to all of us.”