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MSU Trustees Approve Stadium Upgrades

Recruting reception areas: now coming to a north endzone near you!
Recruting reception areas: now coming to a north endzone near you!

The lede, from Rexrode:

EAST LANSING — An estimated $18-million project to enhance Spartan Stadium’s locker rooms and media facilities is in the early stages after Michigan State’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved the plan Friday. upgrade

The project, which also will create a recruiting room, locker room for officials and enhanced restrooms and concession stands on the north end of the stadium, will require funding as the planning moves forward. MSU’s athletic department will pay for it with private donations, and deputy athletic director Greg Ianni said he hopes it can be completed "in the next couple years."

(The trustees also approved the FRIB budget, which is great.)

An artist's rendering of the stadium expansion is on the State News website, and truth be told, it's mighty handsome. Mark Hollis & Co. have sold the expansion by touting its necessity: apparently MSU lags far behind all the other Big Ten programs in terms of these facilities. Given Spartan Stadium's age and general condition (aside from the renovated areas), I have no real reason to doubt this. This picture of the locker rooms, posted by Diamond Leung, gives an indication of how dire the situation is. The expansion will correct that problem, and if they actually follow through and add the new bathrooms to the lower level concourse, in my view that might, on its own, justify the entire expansion. (Death to troughs!) And, while the upgrades won't benefit ticketholders directly, we're already getting the benefits of the last two major stadium projects: the upgraded west-side upper deck, and of course the new scoreboards. I can live with the next upgrade addressing behind-the-scenes deficiencies.

Ediorializing, after the jump.

George Perles's comments about how opposing schools cite the substandard Spartan Stadium facilities to recruit against MSU -- and, implicitly, that the upgrades are necessary to maintain the status of the program -- are more interesting to me. So, $18 million appears to be the cost of getting up to speed in the college football arms race, and that's on top of the costs of the previous stadium upgrades, constructing the Skandalaris Center, higher coaches' salaries, and so on and so forth. While MSU has a seat at the table, keeping it won't be cheap, apparently.

That's fine, except that this stuff all has to be paid for somehow or another. And make no mistake, the "private donations" that will fund this program aren't coming solely from the big dollar donors:

Hollis indicated that MSU will not raise ticket prices to fund the addition to Spartan Stadium. However, the project could mean more "mandatory donations" for fans.

Beginning with the 2012 season, most season tickets purchases required an additional contribution to the Spartan Fund, the chief fundraising mechanism of MSU Athletics. Those "mandatory donations" ranged from $25-$600.

Hollis said earlier this year that the mandatory donations are projected to generate between $1.5 and $3.5 million annually.

Changes to that system, or perhaps something similar, may be on the horizon for the Michigan State faithful with an $18 million project looming.

In the past, the donors who made projects like this go were a small cadre of uber-wealthy alums, without whom the athletic department couldn't function. They're still there, but those donations just aren't enough to sustain the kind of building that's needed to keep up with the Joneses now. The season ticketholders -- you and me -- are now the donors that make these projects happen.

While it may be more equitable in a sense for us all to have skin in the game, I worry about the consequences of forcing everyone to pay for the latest and greatest. Including the mandatory $100 donation per seat, my two season tickets cost $826 this year. I'm rabid enough about the Spartans to dedicate countless hours to this blog -- and the sticker shock when I received my invoice made me at least consider not renewing.

I ultimately did so because the home schedule this year was too good to miss. But what happens next year, when the home schedule is nothing to write home about? If the mandatory donation (contradiction in terms?) increases to $200 per seat, I'm probably out. And if I'm out, I'm sure that thousands of others who aren't nearly as obsessive as I am will be out too. Brian Cook touched on this a few days ago:

Bubble popping? I've muttered about how college football fans are getting close to the breaking point for a while now, and Pat Forde has just documented an opening weekend that was an attendance bust all around. I was shocked at more than one of these factoids:

There was exactly one announced capacity crowd in eight Southeastern Conference home openers. Before the Labor Day Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech game, six out of seven Atlantic Coast Conference schools had smaller crowds than their openers last year – some of them much smaller. Attendance was down at six out of eight Big 12 home openers from 2011. Five out of eight Pac-12 schools had smaller crowds as well, and Oregon's 13-year sellout streak was in jeopardy until game day.

I don't think MSU's attendance is a bubble waiting to burst, but it's not totally secure, either. Four of the seven home games last year were played to below-capacity crowds. Yes, the athletic department sold more season tickets this year than ever before, but how much of that can be credited to the remarkably delicious home schedule? How much of that can be credited to the continued success of the football team? MSU isn't such a football powerhouse that we can take that success for granted. If the team goes 7-5 next year -- not totally out of the realm of possibility -- then what? Will MSU fans be interested in spending $500 per season ticket to see a middling team? Once elevated ticket prices and mandatory donations are implemented, it would be awfully difficult to walk those back in an attempt to increase sales. The new toys need to be paid for.

Of course, if Perles is right, and these projects are needed in order to keep a competitive edge, they're probably worth the cost anyway -- because the same fans that won't pay $500 per ticket to watch a 7-5 team probably wouldn't pay $300 per ticket to watch a 3-8 team, either. In that case, perhaps all there is to do is to shake our fists at the absurdity of modern college football, where palatial locker rooms that are used 7 times per year and luxuries like an in-stadium recruitment center don't give you a leg up -- they're merely the price of admission.

At some point, it won't be sustainable. It seems to me that we'll be arriving at that point sooner than later.