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 This fall, Nebraska will announce its plans for the modernization / renovation / revitalization of Memorial Stadium.

Modernizing Memorial Stadium for its second century is a big undertaking that will have a dramatic impact in the short and long term. Some of the changes might be drastic – I’ve heard rumors of a demolition and complete rebuild of South stadium – while others might be more minor.

But make no mistake: some improvements are necessary. Here is my wish list for what the Memorial Stadium Modernization project should – and should not – contain.

Like most people considering a big home improvement project, I’m breaking up my list into “must haves”, “nice to have”, and “not needed, but I wouldn’t turn it down”. Each section is listed in priority order.

A couple quick notes before we start:

  • We’re going to have a separate conversation (probably during the off week) about some much-needed improvements to the overall Game Day experience. There is definitely some cross-over between that list and what we’ll talk about here (i.e., most of the things on the “Must Have” list). But for our purposes today, please understand that stadium renovations don’t necessarily fix the game day experience, just like improving the game day experience goes beyond construction activity. They’re related, but separate.
  • I’m intentionally not including beer. We all know that at some point in the relatively near future fans will be able to buy a beer at a Nebraska football home game. It may not happen in 2024, but I’d wager that it happens before the current freshmen class graduates. I’m sure the necessary infrastructure for alcohol sales is already factored into the University’s plan, so we’ll leave it off this list.
  • While it might be fun to do a "build a dome" or "install heated recliners with built-in mini fridges" list, we're going to stay somewhat realistic.

Must haves

1. Increase the amount of personal space.

Americans are considerably taller and wider than when the original stadium was built 100 years ago. We’ve definitely gotten wider since the end zone seats were added in the 1960s. As I've mentioned this season, it's not enjoyable when you feel cramped and crowded.

When we talk “personal space”, there are two axes to consider: side-to-side and front-to-back. With bench seat bleachers, it’s pretty easy to expand seat width. Remove a seat or two per row and spread the extra space out. When the Memorial Stadium Modernization project is done, the overall capacity is going to drop – possibly by 10,000 seats or more. This is will be one of the places those seats are lost. And it will be welcomed.

Front-to-back personal space (aka leg room) might be more complex – especially if the plans do not include the words “demolish” or “significant rebuild”. The majority of the stadium is essentially a set of steps with bleachers mounted on top. Those stairs have a limited tread depth that is fixed in 60–100-year-old concrete. I’m not an engineer, but it doesn’t seem like the solution is as easy – or cheap – as removing rows 98 and 99 and spreading out the remaining rows to give the rest of the section a few more inches of legroom.

Keep this in mind if you’re hoping to trade your plank bleacher for a cushy chairback seat: From the pictures I’ve seen of the new chairbacks in the original East balcony, the addition of chairback has only made the leg room situation worse.

Personally, I'd rather have a bleacher seat than a seatback with nowhere to put my knees. As somebody over 6 feet tall, I’d be content with a bleacher set with extra width, as that gives me more places to put my knees other than into the rental chairback of the guy in front of me. With a seatback chair, my options - and comfort decline.

2. Remember the “commoners.”

Here’s my fear for the stadium renovation project: They knock out 40-50 rows of seats in South stadium and replace them with an ultra-premium party patio pavilion with private restrooms and VIP club lounges. While the renderings may look awesome, the majority of us will never sit there. Instead of passionate fans cheering on their Huskers and creating an intimidating home field advantage, it will Lucas from Sales entertaining clients on the company’s dime.

As a middle-class citizen and penny ante donor, I'm not interested in a Memorial Stadium that is primarily suites, club spaces, VIP lounges, and $1,000 per seat “donations”. The Cornhuskers are Nebraska’s team – not the team of the 1%. Even with a reduced capacity there needs to be plenty of seats for the Greatest Fans to fill.

3. Make it easy to get in and out of your seats.

No matter what happens with South stadium (rebuild or remodel), the finished version needs to include some escalators, elevators, and/or other conveyance to get fans from ground level to the upper reaches – and back again – quickly.

The escalators to get to and from the 600 level are a perfect example of what would be beneficial in the south and north stadiums.

4. More restrooms.

Here is a scientific fact I learned as a student at UNL: beer goes in, beer comes out. Whenever the taps flow at Memorial Stadium, the restroom capacity needs to be able to handle the increased demand.

Call me a sentimentalist, but I truly believe the most efficient way to get large numbers of men through a restroom line is when the facilities have urinal troughs. Ladies, this matters to you because needing less space for men’s rooms means more available space for women’s restrooms.

5. Put a gigantic screen above South stadium.

The HuskerVision screen in North stadium is great…. unless you’re sitting in North stadium. Then you’re either turning around or squinting at one of the smaller screens in the corners.

Let’s put a mega screen at the top of the reimagined South stadium. How big? I’m talking big enough that you can see it from the Interstate. Use it to show me replays, stats, and maybe carve out some space to show highlights – or live action – from the other games in progress.

Nice to have

  1. Increase the Wi-Fi speed and capacity. This just barely missed the “must have” list. For better or worse, fans are using their internet connected devices more than ever. And the once strong FanXP Wi-Fi signal is regularly overwhelmed. I don’t care if they hide routers and 5G towers inside the goal posts, a better, faster network benefits everybody.
  2. Concession convenience. Pretend that you’re a season ticket holder in row 85 of South stadium, and you’ve got a craving for a hotdog. Currently, if you walk to the nearest concession stand (on the ground level) you’re missing at least half the quarter. North stadium isn’t a lot better. In addition to an upper-level concourse with full concession stands, I’d love for the plans to carve out small sections in the ramps and upper concourses where the vendors can set up with their Runzas and trays of pop.
  3. Make it easy to walk around the entire stadium. A fan can easily walk around the main concourse clockwise from the southwest corner around to the southeast. However, the concourse does not open into the South stadium. To complete your lap, you’d need to take detours through the stands on the east and west side. Ideally, a fan inside the building could walk the entire concourse. Why does this matter? It makes it easier for groups in different sections and separated fans to reunite. It presumably makes crowd flow easier to control. And it makes is easier for fans who want to walk around and appreciate one of the great cathedrals of college football.
  4. Give the big-money boosters a chair back. The majority of fans in the original West stadium are “donating” north of $1,000 a seat for the ability to purchase tickets. Let’s give them a chair back seat.
  5. Highlight the history. I really like what Nebraska did with the remodeled East stadium concourse. They added several different photos and large displays to show the program’s history and past successes. Given Nebraska’s rich and storied history, there are numerous players and eras that could be highlighted throughout the concourses.

Not needed, but I wouldn’t turn it down

  1. A stand-alone Hall of Fame and Museum. Imagine a full Nebraska Football Museum and permanent home for the program’s Hall of Fame. The completion of the new football facility will surely free up a bunch of square footage in the Osborne Athletic Complex, right?
  2. Cupholders. Can you have cupholders on or under wooden plank bleachers? I’m sure the brilliant students in the Engineering college can find a way to keep my Diet Mountain Dew – or my buddy’s Busch Light tallboy – safe when somebody is walking through the row.
  3. Noise-increasing architecture. Oregon’s Autzen Stadium – regularly recognized as one of the loudest stadiums in college football, despite only holding 54,000 people – has large overhangs that capture crowd noise and redirect it towards the field. I’m not suggesting that Nebraska does something that drastic – or blatant. But if there are some ways (or materials) that could help increase the volume, it might be worth investigating.