Notre Dame’s Unique Stadium Expansion Plans

Notre Dame Fighting Irish logo

Notre Dame Fighting Irish logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Notre Dame football is in revival mode.  Contending for the national championship since it last won one in the 1987 season, the Irish are relevant again and look to be headed in the right direction.  At most schools that would typically mean new investments into the program to help push it over the top, and in this instance Notre Dame is no different.  The university recently announced plans to renovate the football stadium.  It is, however, the scope of the plans and the constituencies involved that are interesting.


There is an age old tension that exists between athletics and the rest of a university.  Faculty get upset when they see financial resources going into athletics, and athletics gets frustrated when faculty refuse to be flexible with a student-athlete who is on the road with his or her team during a final exam.  Students who are not athletes complain that student-athletes get special treatment, and student-athletes complain they get singled out.  This tension is natural and not necessarily unhealthy; think of it as a sort of checks and balances.  Such an environment is ripe for disagreements, however, and those disagreements can sometimes lead to deeper and longer lasting problems for the entire campus.

No better example of this exists than when talk begins of renovating or expanding a football stadium.  Often it is difficult for anyone on campus, other than athletics people of course, to get excited about any new or renovated athletic facility.

According to reports, the stadium plans cater not only to football fans, but to the entire campus community through the creation of classrooms, a conference center, media center and student center.

This would be a fantastic and creative addition that would benefit many on the campus, and perhaps be a model for universities in the future.  Not only can universities serve more constituencies by pursuing these types of projects, but often the funding is easier to secure.  Athletics facilities, either by law or by policy, often have to be funded 100% through philanthropy or generated revenue (e.g. tickets, television).  Not so for academic projects or even student-life facilities such as dorms and cafeterias.  So the possible avenues of funding are expanded with these combined use projects.  And of course, the more groups a facility caters to the larger the potential donor base who might be interested in supporting the project with their financial gifts.

Obviously Notre Dame is unique in many ways, with their deep football tradition to go along with being an elite academic institution.  So perhaps it is natural for its athletics department and the rest of campus to collaborate on a joint facility such as this.  But I’ve seen it work at very different universities as well.

My former employer Western Oregon recently completed something similar with the creation of a combination building made up of: 1) student recreation center, 2) classroom space, and 3) football locker room office/meeting space.  The result was a massive upgrade to the entire campus community, and one that was done collaboratively.

These examples aside, most new university facility projects at large Division I institutions are not being conducted in this manner; in fact just the opposite.  Large, athletics only facilities are being announced each and every day.  My colleagues over at have an in-depth list of them.  And while sometimes it’s simply not feasible to construct a joint or multi-use facility; more often it’s simply a lack of imagination, creativity or desire to work together.

Notre Dame’s stadium plans, should they come to pass, will hopefully shine a light on a new way of doing things when it comes to athletic facilities.  Student-athletes are happy; fans are happy; and faculty are satisfied.  Everyone wins.

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