Word spread on Thursday that a big announcement had been made by Coach Rhoads at a recent Cyclone Gridiron Club event. The announcement was one that many Cyclone fans, including myself, have been waiting to hear for quite some time. Without an official release from the athletics department, many details remain unclear, but here are the basics: According several who were in attendance at the event, Rhoads announced that the new score/videoboard structure will be completed before the coming season and, most importantly, that the south endzone and football-only complex will be constructed not long thereafter.
It’s unclear what was actually said regarding the construction schedule for the south endzone and football complex, but this is excellent news, regardless. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this news is second only to the hiring of Rhoads and Hoiberg in recent years. In my preseason football write-ups, I identified this announcement as the number one thing that I would be watching for during the season. I put this announcement above all potential on-the-field happenings because, in my mind, it is that important for Iowa State football and Iowa State athletics in general. Here’s why.
As I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t just about the stadium. Pollard has spearheaded many much-needed facilities improvements, but this is about making a big leap towards bringing our facilities to a level more comparable to some of the ‘haves’ in college football. This announcement is about no longer being little ol’ Iowa State and, instead, acting aggressively to improve our position in the college football pecking order. And, most importantly, it’s about impressing Joe Recruit and finally having a stadium worthy of the Big 12.
With signing day not far in the rear view mirror, the importance of attracting high-caliber athletes should be fresh in the minds of Cyclone fans. Drive by Jack Trice on a Saturday night after football season and you may wonder why the stadium is lit up like a Christmas tree. The season has been put to bed, but some important business is taking place down on the field. With the lights glowing, potential future Cyclones are strolling the field as the coaching staff helps them envision playing on that surface next fall. The recruits soak it in, recalling other football stadiums they’ve recently visited. And, if they’re the caliber of athlete that Iowa State needs to win in the Big 12, those young men have seen several stadiums that are significantly more imposing than Jack Trice. That is the current reality, but it’s a reality that Coach Rhoads and Jamie Pollard are working hard to change.
So what of the naysayers who continue to insist that Iowa State doesn’t need to increase the capacity of it’s football stadium? For starters, we’re not yet sure if this initial phase will include an upper deck in the south endzone. If it does not, overall capacity will not be increased by any notable amount. The grass corners will simply put on their big boy pants and become permanent seats. If an upper deck is eventually constructed, then we’re looking at a nominal increase in overall capacity. Either way, this Cyclone fan has no concerns that this is an unwarranted investment.
For some perspective, let’s take a look back at when the Cyclones moved from Clyde Williams Field to Jack Trice Stadium. In the final five seasons in Clyde Williams, the average attendance was just over 30,500. The capacity of the old stadium was 36,000. In the Cyclone’s first season in Jack Trice (1975), Iowa State averaged just shy of 40,000 per game. This was a substantial bump in attendance, but this single season doesn’t mean much by itself. Looking further, average attendance continued to grow at a healthy clip, reaching almost 52,000 in 1982.
So do these numbers prove that if you build it, they will come? Not necessarily as Cyclones had a nice run of success under Earl Bruce over the three seasons following our nation’s bicentennial, winning eight, eight, and eight before Bruce left Ames and went on to win four Big 10 titles in nine seasons at Ohio State. Clearly, winning puts butts in the seats, and that responsibility will fall on Coach Rhoads and his staff. What the attendance figures do prove, however, is that a school isn’t forever relegated to certain attendance ‘bracket’. Teams can and do move on up, but the seats have to be in place or it’s a moot point.
Iowa State has made tremendous strides on Pollard’s watch when it comes to improving facilities, but everything that’s been done to this point will pale in comparison to these improvements. Football is king in college athletics. It pays the bills and brings in the big bucks. As a result, die-hard Cyclone fans like myself will be anxiously awaiting an official announcement from the athletics department. Until then, we will continue our quest to explain this to those fans who (shockingly) fail to grasp the significance of this news.