Can interest in Terps expand with Byrd?

September 08, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland built it.

Will they come?

When Byrd Stadium opened in 1950, it was in a bowl of classic dimensions with a little more than 34,000 permanent seats. In their five football games there last year, the Terps attracted that many people only once, when defending national champion Florida State was the attraction.

In an era when cost containment are the buzzwords in athletic departments, does it make any sense to spend $19 million on the construction of two new decks at Byrd Stadium when Maryland couldn't fill seats that were already there?

According to athletic director Debbie Yow, it does if the Terps ever hope to reverse two trends that are inextricably linked: the Terps' decline in football and the athletic department's $7 million deficit.

"You've got to have a vision," Yow said. "If the vision really, seriously, is to move this along to one day to be in the top 20, to one day again win the Atlantic Coast Conference, you need to do everything possible, whether it's building an upper deck or giving the coach the budget he needs."

When Maryland's plan to eradicate its athletic deficit was approved last month, Yow told the Board of Regents that she wouldn't be before it if Byrd Stadium was filled to capacity twice a year.

On the job a little more than a year, Yow adheres to the logic of her predecessors: To get out of debt, get more paying customers at football games; to get more fans, win more games; to win more games, get better players; to get better players, show them a fancy facility when they make a recruiting visit.

Even if recent crowds don't warrant the expense.

"I don't know if it [the expansion of Byrd Stadium] was absolutely necessary," Yow said. "There was another course of action.

"We could have rebuilt Tyser Tower and then the football house, and stopped and waited, but between having the matching funds available and the fact that construction costs rise annually, we felt that if we were going to do it in the near future, that now was the best time to complete the project."

Call it the House That Bobby Ross Wanted Built.

A crumbling Byrd Stadium and modern amenities at some ACC rivals were among the reasons Ross left Maryland for Georgia Tech after the 1986 season, the year after the Terps ended a 13-year run in which they won six ACC titles and went to 11 bowl games.

Maryland has had one winning season since.

Lew Perkins was the athletic director when the state came up with $23 million in matching funds and Maryland began raising $26 million to renovate Byrd Stadium, construct a multipurpose stadium with a track on the site of the soccer field and make minor renovations at Cole Field House.

Of that $49 million -- on which Maryland will pay $16 million in

interest by 2015 -- $42 million has been spent on football.

Starting in 1990, water damage to the Byrd Stadium bowl was repaired and new seats were installed; the press box was razed and replaced with the Tyser Tower; a new football complex housing lockers, offices and a weight room was built; and new concessions and restrooms were added.

The costliest phase of the renovation, which was designed by HOK architects of Kansas City, Mo., the same firm that laid out Camden Yards, is the $19 million Maryland will spend on two new decks on the north side of the stadium.

A total of 7,796 temporary seats were removed at the end of last season.

The new "club" level has 4,236 seats, and the upper deck -- the "view" level -- has 9,562 seats. The new capacity, 48,010, gives Byrd Stadium a net gain of 6,002 seats.

Work on restrooms and concession stands isn't completed, but the new levels will be open tomorrow, when Maryland plays its home opener against North Carolina. Last week's victory over Tulane is little to crow over, but for the first time in four years, the FTC Terps will play at Byrd Stadium with a winning record.

"Everyone loves a winner," coach Mark Duffner said. "When you're winning, people come, and that's the bottom line."

The marketing department, however, is not waiting for the Terps to turn the corner.

R.D. Helt was Duffner's football administrator last fall, but, in March, he was made assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions. After two trips to the Sweet 16, the basketball team doesn't need to be sold, and filling Byrd Stadium is atop Helt's agenda.

Helt's department will spend approximately $165,000 on outside printing and advertising this fiscal year, and more than $100,000 of that will go toward promoting football. The focus has been in the Baltimore-Annapolis corridor. With Scott Milanovich, the team's best-known player, missing the first four games on a gambling suspension, the image of running back Buddy Rodgers looms from 16 billboards.

Helt is hoping for 35,000 fans tomorrow. Season-ticket sales are at 16,000, with 5,100 of those being sold through a "Family Four-Pak," four tickets to all five games in the upper deck for $99. There are six corporate tents for adults, and the Discovery Zone will set up shop for the kids.

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