With football season only weeks away now, a lot of Auburn people are again playing the "what if?" game. What if Auburn had agreed to play UCLA in the Georgia Dome to kickoff the 2010 college football season? The sense of urgency and excitement would certainly be ratcheted up a notch. Months after the invitation was declined, fans are still asking, why did Auburn pass on such a marquee matchup?
Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer writer Andy Bitter recently sat down with Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs to get the answer to this question and many more in a wide ranging interview that was published yesterday. Bitter is hands down the best Auburn beat writer on the circuit. Frankly, there's no one close. In addition to writing for the Ledger-Enquirer, he maintains one of the best blogs in the business, War Eagle Extra.
Rarely do you read an interview where all your questions are asked. This one is the exception. Here's what Jacobs told Bitter about the UCLA game...
Bitter: Last year, Auburn nearly agreed to play a season opener in Atlanta against UCLA. Is that still something you are pursuing?
Jacobs: "We're always looking at that. The No. 1 thing is when coach (Shug) Jordan said college football games were meant to be played on campus, we believe that. However, because of the establishment of that game, the finances are to the point where it's a better deal than going on an away trip, going to play at somebody else's place.
"So to answer your question, yeah, that's something we continue to look at, as far as when and who we can play in Atlanta. First and foremost, I think it would be a good opportunity for our football players because it's an opportunity to play in that dome prior to the SEC Championship Game. Because having played in the Sugar Bowl when I was a player, it's a completely different atmosphere playing 10 or 11 ballgames outdoors and then walking into a dome in December or January.
"I think we've got about 17,000 Auburn alumni in the Atlanta area, I think it would be good for everybody. But the one thing is that football generates 77 percent of our income, and, in order to be able to compete at the level we want to for all 21 of our sports, we can't concede a lot of dollars to move a game out of our own campus."
Jacobs seems to be saying that even with a primetime appearance on ABC Sports, the money is still not enough to give up a home opener with Arkansas State. Managing revenues is certainly a strong point of his, so I won't dispute it. But from a layman's eyes, I find it hard to believe the money wouldn't be nearly equal once television money was paid. Perhaps Jacobs was factoring in what the local businesses around Auburn bring in on game day. It's admirable on his part to look out for the locals. In the end, I remain disappointed that Auburn turned down the opportunity...
In light of the recent stadium expansions around the SEC and the country, a hot topic among Auburn fans is Jordan-Hare Stadium. Phillip Marshall of Auburn Undercover reported last week that despite ticket sales being lower this year, the number of scholarship donors have actually increased over 2009. He says that's key to Auburn's plans for stadium expansion. In talking with Bitter, Jacobs seems to show his hand in terms of what stadium expansion will look like and when it will likely happen...
Bitter: The general tone from a lot of readers' e-mails is that Jordan-Hare Stadium has fallen down the rankings in terms of aesthetics and modernness. Are there any plans to expand or renovate the stadium in the near future?
Jacobs: "Well, a couple of things. One, when you talk about renovations, five years ago we did a major renovation in the concourse. We increased the number of restrooms and points of sales. As far as the main concourse, I don't know if anybody has a nicer concourse, and I've been to all of them, than we do for the fans. So the renovation part of it, keeping it updated, the first school to have the HD video board, the restrooms, the concession stands, all those things, with the exception of a food court, we're not behind anybody in that. But when you're talking about adding seats vs. a renovation, a renovation to me means updating, if you're talking about stadium expansion, that's a completely different thing.
"The only thing we've done in the last seven years is we added a few thousand seats on the east upper deck and added a dozen more suites. But what we did in October was we hired a master design architect and we've been to probably six or eight different stadiums over the last eight months looking at what other people have done in their stadiums. What we're going to do is we're going to come up with a master plan for how we want our stadium to look in so many years.
"And the reason we did that is when our pro forma dictates that it's time to add additional seats-- let's just say for example premium seats in the upper deck, in one particular end zone -- we don't want to have gone in and expanded the recruiting lounge in the south end zone and now, two years later have to go in and add an upper deck and destroy what we've done underneath. So what we're doing is we're putting together a master plan of everything that we would want in a stadium, including capacity, in the next number of years. Whatever the years may be.
"And so we'll have some different components so when the pro forma dictates, when we're selling out our season tickets for a couple years in a row and the TUF priority for a couple years in a row, then it's time to expand it. We were there a couple years ago. We had actually started the wheels in motion as far as doing an expansion, and then 2008, when we only won five ballgames and the economy hit, we put that on hold.
"So we haven't moved forward with that, because the time and the money don't dictate doing so. And the demand doesn't dictate doing so at this time. However, we brought in these master design folks to look at what everybody does, so when we get ready to do whatever it may be, whether it's a stadium expansion of the upper deck or premium seats or scholarship seats in the end zone or suites in the end zone or enlarging our recruiting area, whatever it may be we'll take that part of the master plan and we'll do it and it won't impact any of the other parts and we don't paint ourselves in a corner.
"What we've learned to do is be proactive, not reactive, and try to have a good plan for everything. So when it comes to stadium expansion, the fans dictate that with demand. And the football team certainly has to win. All that dictates how soon we can possibly expand the stadium."
It appears the rumors floating around following the 2007 season were true. Auburn was looking at expansion of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Speculation was running rampant that Auburn was about to add approximately 5,000 additional seats and two levels of much needed luxury boxes. Of course, that all died along with Tuberville following the 2008 campaign.
Reading Bitter's piece, it looks like Auburn officials are a little more down the road on expansion than most people realized. The revelation that officials have been traveling to other schools to look at facilities is a positive sign that work on the stadium may happen sooner rather than later.
I agree with Jacobs that renovation is more important than expansion. Clearly, the number of seats in Jordan-Hare Stadium is more than adequate for now. What must change is the look of the place. As we talked a few weeks back, Jordan-Hare is more than adequate, but it's no longer marquee and that's important to note.
Plainsman Park is arguably the nicest college baseball facility in America. It's not the biggest, but it's the best. When visitors leave, they don't remember the number of seats, but they do recall the amenities of the place. The same goes for the new Auburn Arena.
Who would have dreamed ten years ago that the football stadium would one day be the worst of the three major Auburn sports venues? Thankfully Jacobs knows it and is taking steps to make things better.
Be sure to read Bitter's entire interview on his blog. Jacobs answers a lot of questions many of us have had for a long time.