Column: Where is Oklahoma's New Stadium? 'Money is the Culprit,' Patty Gasso Says

Four years after a renovation plan and three years after a new stadium was announced, the No. 1 team in the nation is "closer" to moving out of Marita Hynes Field.
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Patty Gasso and the Oklahoma administration are doing everything they can.

They launched a fundraising initiative based on home runs — in the same year that the Sooners are on the verge of rewriting the NCAA home run mark.

They’ve added a “Home Run Village” to drum up interest outside the stadium for this weekend’s big Super Regional showdown with Washington.

And, of course, Gasso and her team have dominated the NCAA statistics and the college softball rankings this year, just like they’ve dominated the opposition on the field.

And yet, the Sooners’ new softball stadium remains a two-dimensional vision. Four years in, ground has not been broken on a new facility.

So what’s the holdup?

“These are just tough questions,” Gasso said Tuesday on a video press conference.

Gasso summed it up as simply as possible.

“Money,” she said. “Money is the culprit.”

Plans were initially revealed in May 2017 — four years ago this month — that Marita Hynes Field would be renovated. But Gasso, athletic director Joe Castiglione and the OU administration reconsidered and figured any money raised for softball facilities would be best spent on an entirely new stadium.

Softball Stadium

In 2018, Castiglione said the accomplishments of the softball team and the passion of the fan base illustrated the need for a new stadium. Capacity at MHF is 1,378, but everyone knows OU could pack double that into any given home game and maybe triple for the big ones. And NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals might bring even more.

Castiglione said three years ago that the new stadium capacity is expected to exceed 3,000, will include triple the current configuration of concessions and restrooms, and will nestle into the northwest corner of Jenkins Avenue and Imhoff Road, about a half-mile south of the current stadium. 

Gasso has said it will be "one of the finest facilities in the country."

But fundraising has been slow over the past year, Gasso said, despite the recent successful campaign.

“COVID kind of hurt that cause,” Gasso said. “I think as we got on the field and we started bringing back our team, you could see that the money started to spike.”

SB Render 2

One element of the whole process has been particularly frustrating for Gasso: recruiting.

“It was in 2017 that a big announcement was made and it's hard,” she said. “It’s hard in many ways because, again, you just have to give answers to your team. And when I was recruiting these guys, I'm telling them that they're playing in a new stadium.”

Then again, while some players on the current roster may be disappointed that a fancy new stadium never came to fruition during their time in Norman, that disappointment hasn’t been reflected in their performance on the field.

For instance, transfers like Jana Johns and Taylon Snow weren’t given the impression the new facility would be finished during their time. They just came to OU to play softball.

And that mentality holds for some of the younger players, as well. Freshman pitcher Nicole May is an example of Gasso and her staff just recruiting ballplayers who don’t care what the facility looks like or how many fans it holds.

“I came here on a visit and I loved the environment and, like, the homey feel of (it),” May said. “From the staff, from the fans, just Norman in general. So it wasn't so much that.

“And I think our field has very homey vibe to it. So, nothing really to complain about there. But I'm not really thinking about — I didn't choose this school because of, ‘Oh hey, we're gonna have a new field.’ Like, you know, I don't really care about the flashy aspect of that.”

“You have to make the most of where you're at,” said Snow, who arrived last year after starting her career at Auburn. “I mean, yeah, it'd be nice to have some multimillion dollar stadium. But right now, that's not our worry. We have one angle. … We can play wherever, and we will still have that team chemistry, and we will still go out and grind for each other. So despite where we're playing or anything like (that) — yes, a nice stadium would be fantastic. But there's an angle.”

The athletic department’s revenue dip in 2020 was significant. According to USA Today, after 14 consecutive years of growth, athletic department revenue at OU dropped from $175.3 million in 2018 to $163.1 million in 2019.

Licensing, media rights and ticket sales remained steady or showed growth, but contributions dropped from almost $63 million to $45.5 million.

When figures are revealed for 2020, those areas will likely fall even more.

No matter how much the softball team wins — even with another national championship and the most prolific offense in history — a new stadium can’t be built without those donations.

“It’s just, it's finances,” Gasso said. “This is a $25 million project and we're gonna aim to get to half, I think, to get ground broken. And I think we're getting pretty close.

“I don't know when we're breaking ground. I have not been told. I just feel like we're getting closer.”