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Rebuild It And They Will Come: Rebuilding Cowell A Priority For Scarano at UNH
Marty Scarano drives by it every day and doesn’t like what he sees.
“Every single time I pass that place on my way to work I am, frankly, appalled,” said the University of New Hampshire’s athletic director.
That place is ancient Cowell Stadium and home to the UNH football team, which has enjoyed going on the road in recent years and playing in some of the best venues in the championship subdivision, but yearns for its own state-of-the-art facility.
It might even help the Wildcats get to the next level after losing in the quarterfinals of the NCAA playoffs to end five of the last six seasons. For that to happen, however, it would take a major fundraising effort, which was recently endorsed by UNH President Mark Huddleston.
Renovating or rebuilding the outdated facility has been a priority for Scarano ever since he took over the Athletics Department at UNH.
“I think it’s absolutely needed,” Scarano said. “I think it’s a fork in the road to the extent that in my 10 years here no one has ever quantified the value of athletics.
“This is a whole new world,” he added. “But at the end of the day the problem is resources. There are no identified sources of funding for a facility. So we’re back where we always are, and that’s trying to fund-raise.”
So what has changed?
“The president is a partner in this,” Scarano said. “He wants to see it happen. I think that’s the most important step of all. There’s an endorsement from the president that quantifies the need for this. That’s never been publicly portrayed since I’ve been here.”
In keeping with a renewed commitment, the school plans to submit at least two proposals to a firm in Boston for a cost estimate, “then take them to potential benefactors to gauge their interest,” Scarano said.
Without going into great detail, Scarano said the new stadium should have a minimum seating capacity of 12,000 with lights, services, and other amenities that would include new locker rooms, restrooms, concessions, and a press box above the west side stands.
“I want to build something that endures for the next 50 years,” Scarano said. “I’m not interested in putting up $2 million worth of aluminum seating. We want to do something that’s befitting the program and the university. I don’t think we would be doing the university or this department or the football program any favors by heaving up a bunch of bleachers out there.”
According to Scarano, the project could cost anywhere from $17 to $35 million depending on what’s done and when. Cowell Stadium, built in the early 1930s as a product of the nation’s first stimulus package, has remained largely intact except for the outdoor track that was constructed in 2000 and the artificial turf that was installed in 2008.
Both projects were privately funded. Bremner Field serves as the football program’s outdoor practice facility. But Scarano doesn’t want to stop there nor does he want to build a new multipurpose stadium in phases.
“I’m not satisfied,” he said.
The press box was enclosed in 2005 when the school hosted back-to-back playoff games, including a quarterfinal contest against Northern Iowa that was televised by ESPN.
On the field, UNH has been a national contender in recent years, making six consecutive appearances in the FCS tournament. The Wildcats have played 11 playoff games during that span, but hosted only two at Cowell Stadium.
“That thing has been neglected for 50 years,” Scarano said. “If we had the money we would break ground tomorrow. A lot of people want this to happen, but we’re challenged to find the resources to make it happen.”
Scarano thought they found the resources several years ago.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “We thought we were close in 2005-06 with a major corporate partner that we thought we had a big gift from. That was very demoralizing when that vaporized. I’m not sure I can be set up for too much more disappointment on this issue.”
There is a sense of urgency. UNH also feels some pressure from the Colonial Athletic Association. With Northeastern dropping football, Cowell Stadium’s 6,500 seating capacity is the lowest in the league and one of the smallest in the country at the FCS level.
“With Hofstra and Northeastern going away,” Scarano said, “and all the Southern schools making huge investments in their football program it’s pretty palatable that people don’t appreciate coming here.
“If we can do something that’s really appropriate, well-done, and functional then we ‘re going to be in a pretty good situation,” he added. “We’re not trying to jump to the top of the queue, we just want to get into the queue.”
A substandard facility can have an adverse effect on recruiting, although that’s difficult to quantify.
“Is this something that’s needed? Yeah,” said coach Sean McDonnell. “It would help us to have a stadium that would give us an opportunity to compete nationally year-in and year-out in the recruiting wars. The other thing it does is give this university and this state a facility it deserves.”
McDonnell and his staff have done a lot with a little in recent years with an emphasis on accentuating the positive.
“Sean does a great job selling people,” Scarano said. “We do all the right things around the kids. But do we get all the top athletes that we want? No, and I think a lot of that is because of the facilities. Maybe we could land a few more athletes than we land now. That could be the difference between winning the national championship and not.”
Although UNH submits a bid every year, the chances of hosting another playoff game are remote. The two games it hosted in 2005 came about only because the Wildcats were the No. 1 seed in the 16-team field.
McDonnell sees the need for a new facility, but doesn’t dwell on it.
“As a football coach that could help an awful lot around here,” he said, “but at the same time you understand these are difficult times that we’re facing. I think we’re as close as we’ve ever been in a lot of ways, but you never know how much people are going to be able to help us.”
By Al Pike, Fosters Daily Democrat