13 Oct 2015

New Florida Atlantic University Football Stadium Elevates School to New Level

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Florida Atlantic University football stadium

Florida Atlantic University football stadium (Source – FAU Sports)

A football stadium doesn’t have to a billion-dollar behemoth to be a first-class facility. Take the Florida Atlantic University football stadium in Boca Raton, Fla. It’s a blue and green jewel in the city and the only stadium in the country with a view of the Atlantic Ocean.

The stadium in a word, is spectacular. While it only seats 30,000 people, it has plenty of big-time amenities. For example, there are 24 luxury suites. There’s a 1,082-seat club level and 3,920 seat priority level with a 16,000 square foot tiki bar. (In Florida, any facility worth it’s salt has to have a tiki bar.)

The field is the only college football turf in the state with natural grass. And, probably the only one with palm trees on the property. There’s 195 of them.

The college also boasts that this is the only stadium in the country with a view of the Atlantic Ocean. (You need to be in a sky suite or the press box for that).

Price tag? $70 million.

How was a regional, commuter college with 30,000 students able to build a first-class stadium? Much of the credit would go to a person named Howard Schnellenberger.

You might remember him as the coach who built up a lackluster Miami Hurricanes college football team and won a national championship in 1983. There’s more to his legend. He was the offensive coordinator under Don Shula when the Miami Dolphins had their magical, perfect season in 1972.  And he earned his chops working under such legends as Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama, helping him win three national championships. The guy also holds the distinctive college coaching record of winning every bowl game, six, he has been in.

Schnellenberger coached the FAU Owls for their first 11 years and helped them move from Division 1-AA to Division 1-A level in 2005. The team won the Sun Coast conference title in 2007 and went on to beat Memphis to win the New Orleans Bowl, after just seven years as a football team. That set a NCAA record for the youngest program to ever make it to a bowl game. Several FAU players have since made it to the NFL.

If you are going to recruit someone to help you raise money to build a football stadium, that’s the guy you want to do it.

The materials that went into the structure include 3,916 tons of structural steel and 400 tons of aluminum for the aluminum bleachers. For the foundation and hardscapes, they used 15,800 tons of concrete.

The tallest part of the stadium, where the sky and press boxes are located, rises to 145 feet.

If you missed any of the action, you can see it again on a huge 50 foot by 30 foot video board, clearly visible in high definition at one end of the facility.

To honor Coach Schnellenberger, the field is named after him. The actual naming rights for the entire stadium are still being held open for the right corporate sponsor. There’s also a statue of the coach right near the entrance.

The project is not just about football either. It’s included as the first phase of the university’s “Innovation Village.” This is a multi-purpose proposal that includes four apartment resident halls for students, retail areas and a mutli-use “convocation center” that would add space for the basketball team and other functions.

You can see FAU is working on gaining exposure as a first-class university with a first-class athletic program for a college of its size.

Coach Schnellenberger achieved quite a bit in his career. (By the way, he’s also credited with recruiting famed QB Joe Namath to Alabama).

But when the stadium was opened, he said “I am humbled beyond belief that the university would bestow this great honor on the Schnellenberger family and me personally. This is probably the highlight of my coaching career.”

Some coaches win college titles (like Schnellenberger). Some like Shula win Super Bowls.

But those victories stay in the spotlight until the following year when someone else claims those titles.

To be responsible for building a stadium and to have a football field named after you, that’s a sort of trophy that will last a very long time.

Still, some might say why spend so much for a stadium for a mid-size team? What’s that got to do with academics? There’s more to it than just football.

It’s branding 101. FAU’s stellar football facilities will attract top players. The top players will start winning football games. The country will begin to hear FAU’s name more and more. That recognition will get the attention of teachers and potential students in general.

All this recognition will help a regional, former commuter-type school such as FAU, founded in 1961, to move up in status to become a well-known, traditional four-year university. That’s how it’s done.

In addition, the stadium adds to the overall economic impact of an institution such as FAU. It is estimated activity created by the school contributes about $6.3 billion annually, that’s “B” as in billions, to the area economy.

Right now, this beautiful stadium still has seats to fill and games to win. Although the place was packed when the Owls played the University of Miami Hurricanes, ironically, Schnellenberger’s former team.

Some time in the future, those aluminum bleachers will be filled all the time and FAU will be recognized as a football powerhouse, an athletic powerhouse in general and the university will move up a level on the country’s radar.

The football stadium is more than a football stadium. The structure symbolizes a mindset of excellence held by the university, a dedication to achievement similar to the lessons taught to players by every great coach.

 

 

 

 

 

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