On April 26, 2008, the department of athletics published its first-ever strategic plan, boldly titled, “Unrivaled Ambition.” It detailed plans establishing an endowment for athletics, updating several facilities and “changing the entire culture” of the football program to name a few.
Then the U.S. financial system nearly imploded, triggering a global credit crisis. Needless to say, the University’s “Unrivaled Ambition” was held in check.
Almost three years later, though, the athletic department has managed to complete nearly all of its immediate facilities priorities. The recent renovations of Jack Coombs Field for baseball, the Rod Myers Training Center for both golf teams and the start of construction on the multi-purpose fieldhouse, to be used by the football team as well as intramural sports, have all taken place within the past six months.
But it may be quite some time before any other construction crews come rolling down Whitford Drive, unless donors resume giving large gifts. The University is considering reducing its annual subsidy to athletics, which is currently around $14.6 million, down from $15 million two years ago, said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask.
“We’ve weathered most of the problem, but it puts us in a place where we don’t have a lot of new money for new things,” said Trask, who is the chief administrative and financial officer for the University. “Donations are not up that much. We still haven’t seen a lot of big gifts, which is the difference.”
‘Anything short of a Monsoon’
The three most recent projects were funded through a combination of gifts, money from the athletics budget, general University funds and the executive vice president’s discretionary fund.
The most pressing need was a renovation to Jack Coombs Field. In the 2008 strategic plan, the field was deemed “the worst baseball facility in the ACC” mainly due to its poor drainage system, which hadn’t been updated since it was installed in the 1950s, according to Brad Berndt, an associate director of athletics. The outdated system, combined with a grass surface and a wet spring last year, forced the Blue Devils to move all but one of their home games off campus.
The majority were relocated to nearby Durham Bulls Athletic Park, with which Duke signed a three-year contract in 2010 to host primarily weekend ACC series. When that facility was unavailable last season, however, the team had to bus to the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, 30 minutes from campus, causing more expenses and time out of class, Berndt said.
“The cost associated with playing games away from campus had become an issue,” Berndt said.
The field underwent several changes this winter. The drainage system was updated, the grass playing field was replaced with a sports turf artificial surface and the entire field was moved closer to the backstop, necessitating that the outfield fences be moved in as well to maintain the current dimensions. Additionally, a few light poles were readjusted and one was added.
“We decided to fix all of it to get an all-field surface that would drain in anything short of a monsoon,” Trask said. “And even in a monsoon, it will drain fairly quickly.”
The total cost was a little over $1.5 million, with one-fourth of that total coming out of Trask’s discretionary fund to ensure the club baseball team has access to the field. Another fourth came from a central deferred maintenance fund, about one-half came from athletics and a six-figure gift helped cover the rest.
The team will still look to renew its contract with the Durham Bulls after next year, Trask said, because “everyone likes that park downtown,” and the on-campus field is not capable of hosting NCAA events, as it was hoped for in the 2008 strategic plan.
Six- and Seven-Figure Gifts
The other two recent projects—the renovations to the golf teams’ practice area and the start of construction on the multi-purpose fieldhouse—are almost entirely gift-funded.
A $200,000 gift to the golf program altered the terrain of the driving range, chipping green and bunkers. The practice area, which is shielded by trees to the left of the 10th hole, has two split fairways with a variety of different types of grass to better prepare the teams for their travels.
“We play tournaments on Zoysia, Bermuda, and we have two different kinds of dead grass for our greens down there, so we are trying to simulate the conditions we play in tournaments,” said Dan Brooks, the head women’s golf coach.
The fieldhouse, which is currently under construction adjacent to the Brooks Practice Facility directly behind Wallace Wade Stadium, is a considerably more expensive undertaking and is funded by a substantial gift. Bob Pascal, Trinity ‘56, donated $6 million, the largest individual gift in Duke athletics history, for the field house in April 2009. Steve Brooks, T ‘70, the namesake of the football team’s current practice area, also donated $4 million to the program at the same time.
The university is contributing about $1 million from the executive vice president’s discretionary fund to cover the costs of the field, so the facility can truly be multi-purpose and be used by IM and club teams when the football squad isn’t practicing. The facility—which the Trustees have not proposed naming for Pascal yet, said Mike Cragg, senior associate director of athletics and head of facilities planning—will be done in time for next school year and hopefully for the start of fall football practice, according to Trask.
‘A Domino effect’
The long-term plan for football, though, is likely to run a tab of $80 to $90 million, if the planners get their wish. The Bostock Group, made up of influential donors and alumni, has a four-phase plan to completely renovate Wallace Wade. The group is close to presenting a more precise estimation than the $80 to $90 million that was brought up last semester.
“We want to create a more fan-friendly environment like Cameron where our students are right on the court,” Cragg said. “We’re looking at areas to build a new track stadium and think we have a good plan for that, which would require changes or renovations for practice fields for soccer and lacrosse. It’s kind of a domino effect.”
Cameron Indoor Stadium might one day be a part of that domino effect. In the 2008 strategic plan, the idea of adding suites to generate additional income from Cameron was proposed. Since then, several architects have tried, and failed, to come up with an “architecturally doable and financially workable” plan, Trask said.
“It’s architecturally close to impossible,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of people try, and they all give up eventually. You could take the roof off, but the problem is if you do that and put in 25 suites, they would never pay for themselves. And why would you want to move to the very back?
“Cameron is a special place and we want to keep it a special place.”