Sept. 16, 2011
By John Heisler
Turn the clock back a dozen or so years in terms of athletic facilities at the University of Notre Dame.
Frank Eck Baseball Stadium had opened in 1994. The expanded Notre Dame Stadium – with 20,000 more seats and a new press box – had been unveiled in 1997. The new Warren Golf Course was slated to open in 2000.
But, beyond those projects, there wasn’t all that much of a story to tell when it came to the home fields and courts for Irish athletic programs.
The Joyce Center (originally the Athletic and Convocation Center), home for basketball, hockey, volleyball and fencing, had been around since 1969.
Moose Krause Field east of the Joyce Center served as home for track and field and lacrosse. Softball and soccer had home venues that mostly were fields surrounded by bleachers.
The football coaches had offices in the Joyce Center, and the Irish players still dressed in a rather non-descript JACC locker area until moving over to Notre Dame Stadium in ’97.
There had been some improvements in some teams’ locker rooms – but no one could make a case that many prospective student-athletes elected to come to South Bend because of the overwhelming, state-of-the-art sports facilities on campus.
So in 2000, the Notre Dame athletics administration decided to take stock. In addition to commissioning a facilities master plan, a handful of University administrators (both in and out of athletics) traveled all over the country to see what other major schools were doing with facilities.
The idea was simple, and the questions obvious:
How do our facilities compare with the schools against whom we recruit?
What do the locker rooms look like at Michigan and Penn State?
What sorts of stadia are in place at North Carolina and Texas?
Where do you dress and hang out and watch video and compete if you play sports at Stanford?
They went to Ann Arbor and State College. They went to Chapel Hill and Durham. They went to Austin and Palo Alto.
What they found probably came as no real surprise: For the most part, Notre Dame’s athletics facilities weren’t anything to write home about.
Out of those trips and the resulting analysis and discussions came an ambitious plan for the future. It qualified as particularly ambitious because athletics had to fund any new building projects itself – and the athletics department had never particularly been in the fundraising business before. So, this created a couple of particular challenges.
It was one thing to dream about a potential series of new facilities – it was another to figure out how to pay for them. But, quickly, it became apparent that there were individuals interested in making these projects become reality. Not long after those initial road trips, an athletics master plan that would touch all 26 sports was presented to the University.
Job one became addressing the football questions – and the answer became the 95,000-square-foot Guglielmino Athletics Complex that became the new home for virtually every aspect of the Notre Dame football program. Coaching and administrative offices, a roomy practice locker room, a sophisticated video complex, position meeting/video rooms, an equipment area, a players’ lounge area, a recruiting lounge, a new training room and a strength and conditioning area that doubled in size (both available to all other Irish teams), a team auditorium (that’s also home to most football media opportunities) – all of that and more became reality just prior to the 2005 football season. With the Gug attached to the Loftus Center, the Irish football staff essentially had the ability to house its entire operation under one rather large roof.
When New England Patriot owner Bob Kraft came to South Bend for the Notre Dame-USC game, he opined that the Gug compared favorably with most any NFL team facility he had seen. Yet the Gug was only the beginning.
Here’s what came next:
— In 2006 rose the Rolfs Family All-Season Varsity Golf Facility. Adjacent to the Warren course, it provided locker rooms and offices, heated driving bays and an indoor putting and chipping area.
— In 2008 came Melissa Cook Stadium for softball just southeast of Eck Baseball Stadium, complete with locker room, team room and batting cages.
— Also in 2008 came the La Bar Practice Complex, as Notre Dame’s football practices moved from Cartier Field to three brand-new fields (two of them artificial turf) just south of the Gug.
— In the fall of 2009 came Purcell Pavilion, as the Joyce Center arena underwent a nifty makeover that featured all-new chairback seating, a new three-story entrance at the south end of the Joyce Center, a club area for entertaining, plus relocated areas for the ticket offices and the varsity shop.
— In 2009 also came Arlotta Stadium and Alumni Stadium, the two nearly identical back-to-back homes for Irish lacrosse and soccer, respectively.
— In that same summer of 2009, a new outdoor track came online.
— This fall will open the Compton Family Ice Arena, a new home for Irish hockey (offices, locker, training, strength and conditioning and meeting areas included). That complex also includes a second (Olympic-sized) sheet of ice that will provide additional opportunities for intramural, club and community use.
One of University vice president and athletics director Jack Swarbrick’s initiatives since he came on board in 2008 has been to make better use of Notre Dame’s athletics facilities as options for both community and out-of-town youth programs and competitions.
No one’s job changed more during this building boom than that of current senior deputy athletics director Missy Conboy. After spending most of her years in the compliance/business area, Conboy’s life suddenly became a non-stop maze of facility meetings.
If there weren’t blueprints to consider for the Gug, there were theming, lighting and furniture selections to be made for lacrosse and soccer. Conboy, associate athletics director Mike Danch and others found themselves virtually joined at the hip with University architect Doug Marsh and his staff.
“I looked at this as a tremendous opportunity to impact the campus landscape and to make sure that the athletics quad conformed to the architectural tenets of the academic and residential quads. We also wanted to celebrate the history and tradition of Notre Dame athletics within all those various facilities,” says Conboy.
For every hour of work accomplished in the construction process, there seemed to be two hours of meetings and planning required. Wander around the Gug or Arlotta Stadium and you can only imagine the hundreds of day-to-day decisions involved in creating any one of Notre Dame’s new buildings.
“Despite having no previous background in facilities, my husband can confirm that I do like to decorate,” says Conboy with a smile. “He’s particularly thrilled that I’m spending Notre Dame’s money and not ours.”
If you haven’t been to campus for a while, take a walk behind the Joyce Center. The view may astound you. And the Irish aren’t done yet.
Now that a decade has gone by, yet another master plan is receiving the finishing touches. It will address the needs of sports like rowing, fencing, volleyball and track and field. And once hockey moves into its new facility, the north dome of the Joyce Center will be repurposed.
After that, Conboy may be able to go back to her day job.
Next: Part 3 – Communicating the News of Irish Athletics: How und.com and Social Media Are Changing How We Know Notre Dame Sports