Disclaimer: This author is an SMU football fan and is prone to somewhat irrational optimism when predicting future success on the field.
Note: This article was originally written on 2/11/2023 and information may be dated as of publishing.
The unstoppable march of progress is on display in the Park Cities: the iconic grass hill student section of SMU's Gerald J. Ford (no, not that Gerald Ford) Stadium is in the midst of being torn up and replaced. Students and alumni alike will reminisce fondly upon the memories made there -- be it watching local kids slide down the hill, jumping the wall to storm the field following a downright wacky triple overtime win, or other memorable events:
Part of SMU's $1.5 billion Ignited fundraising campaign, the $100 million renovation has been spearheaded by a $50 million commitment from the Garry Weber Foundation, established by former SMU football player and philanthropic renaissance man of the same name.
The planned 192,500 SF complex, to be named "The Garry Weber End Zone Complex", will connect the current horseshoe tips of the stadium to create contiguous seating around the entire field. The new seating will be primarily club-level and other premium options -- more than making up for the loss of the Harwood Club on the lawn. Additional, fans, especially those who appreciate statistics (either for the love of the game or perhaps other reasons), should be pleased with plans for a brand new main scoreboard as well as auxiliary scoreboards.
As with all buildings on SMU's campus, the new end zone complex will follow the classic "Collegiate Georgian" architectural style -- a silver lining for any nostalgic alumni.
Demolition of the grass field and surrounding area began at the start of January, 2023 and construction is set to be completed in August, 2024. While inbound construction vehicles should have little effect on traffic outside of SMU's campus, outbound flow may cause Mockingbird Lane to become even more of nightmare. It is unclear how construction will be affected by the football season, but the Mustang faithful can hope that players will be better prepared for loud away game crowds if they are practicing next to an active construction site.
One of the key drivers behind this expansion is the addition of extensive football operations spaces within the end zone complex. These state of the art facilities will include meeting rooms for each position group, brand new locker rooms, athletic trainers' areas, a kitchen, and a weight room among other amenities. While at least some of these facilities are open to all student-athletes, it is not a stretch to say that the donations were made with the football team in mind. SMU has been taking full advantage of its expansive, tier one alumni donor base to bring the team back to its former glory on the gridiron -- an effort that has been greatly aided by new NIL regulations, essentially legalizing the strategy that initially led to SMU Football's downfall: the NCAA "Death Penalty".
The end zone facility will complement the recently constructed Armstrong Fieldhouse, an indoor practice facility that allows the team to practice in a climate controlled environment. Considering the unpredictable and, frankly, bizarre climate of North Texas, the Armstrong Fieldhouse is essential to the continued growth and success of the Ponies. Fans hope that the trifecta of the revamped stadium, indoor practice facility, and abundant wealth of SMU Football boosters will prove pivotal in returning to the good old days of the 1980s' Pony Express squads.
Just one of SMU's NIL foundations, the Boulevard Collective, will be paying football and men's basketball players $36,000 annual "salaries" for their involvement on the team. NFL Hall of Famer and SMU legend Eric Dickerson, shown embracing SMU's controversial past in the above video, is a key player in these fundraising efforts.
Only time will tell if these new facilities and their complementary hefty paychecks will be able to bring SMU Football back to national prominence. One thing, however, is for sure: relocating the student section behind the away team bench should finally force opponents to use their silent counts -- a key for any home field advantage.
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