Gimino: Arizona Wildcats eye indoor football facility - Tucson News Now

Gimino: Arizona Wildcats eye indoor football facility

(Source: University of Arizona) (Source: University of Arizona)
Greg Byrne Greg Byrne
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Arizona Wildcats athletic director Greg Byrne is talking about the need to raise about $150 million for renovations and upgrades to the school's football stadium.

That is not the only construction project on his to-do list.

"An indoor facility is definitely on the radar screen," Byrne told on Tuesday.

It is a undertaking that has seemingly gone from wish list to priority list.

"We need one," coach Rich Rodriguez said last month.

"I didn't think we needed one because it never rains here, right? But because of the heat in the summer and with some of the storms you get in August, we need to have one.

"I think the school is open to the idea. Greg has been great to work with, and to talk about it with. It's not going to happen overnight, but I think it's something that has been recognized as something we need."

Indoor practice facilities come in differing shapes, sizes and price ranges, and Arizona isn't quite into all those details just yet. But, for an example, Florida finished construction last fall on a $17 million indoor facility that featured 120 yards of turf.

"Like any other project, we will have to find a way to make it work financially," Byrne said.

He said his preference is for a permanent structure, not an inflatable bubble, which is what Arizona State has had near its football practice field since 2008. The Verde Dickey Dome has 103,500 square feet of space.

Byrne did not want to put a timeline on the construction of an indoor facility, saying he only wanted to move as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Another question: Where do you put it?

"That's a good question," said Byrne, adding there are two or three options that he wasn't ready to advocate for at this time. The athletic department would have to work with university president Ann Weaver Hart and the Arizona Board of Regents on any project of this magnitude.

Facilities are always important in recruiting, but an indoor facility is about more than that, Byrne said.

"I think it would certainly help from a recruiting standpoint, but the most important thing we look at is that it can help us be as good as we can be.

"Obviously, it would benefit football significantly. There could be other sports, such as soccer, softball and baseball, even track could have times training inside of there."

As for the football stadium, the athletic department is redoing the 100 level sections (lower east side of Arizona Stadium), replacing bench seating with chairback seating in time for the home opener against Grambling State on Sept. 10.

The north end zone was redone in 2013 as part of the $72 million Lowell-Stevens Football Facility. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the 90-year stadium -- whether it be seating, or concession areas, or restrooms, or infrastructure, tends to show its age.

"People always talk about the arms race," Byrne said Tuesday on his weekly appearance on 1290-AM. "I really don't think what we're doing here at Arizona is the arms race. It's just we have old facilities that need replacing."

He said an overhaul of Arizona Stadium and its seating could reduce capacity from 56,000 to an area around 48,000 to 50,000. "That's a real solid number," he said.

Byrne will push for a new student athletics fee of about $200 annually to help fund the stadium project, along with the kind of major gifts that fueled Lowell-Stevens and McKale Center renovations.

Arizona and Washington are the only public universities in the Pac-12 that do not have student athletics fees.

"Philosophically, I would prefer to not look at a student fee," Byrne said on radio. "I think the reality is that's how we're going to get a project of this size done."

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