Speculation may ensue for weeks if not months about the size of the Drayton McLane leadership gift to Baylor University toward a $250 million, state-of-the-art, on-campus football stadium, but this much is beyond debate: The McLane family’s faith in both the university and its rapidly evolving athletic program is undeniable, a beacon for others to consider and emulate. The family, long involved in Baylor’s destiny as well as the competitive business world, asks that the proposed facility be named Baylor Stadium.

While officials decline to cite hard numbers, this capital gift is reportedly the largest in Baylor’s 167-year history, exceeding the $20 million gift that built Baylor’s law school. It invigorates an idea introduced last fall — that of building a riverfront sports arena to replace Floyd Casey Stadium, which is two miles off campus and has been used since 1950 for Baylor home games.

Yes, Baylor is the only institution in the Big 12 to lack an on-campus football stadium. That may or may not be a drawback in college athletics. But when one fully considers the potential impact of a new stadium along the Brazos — further cementing relations between Waco and Baylor — one can see how this venture also qualifies as a mighty civic undertaking, a catalyst for city leaders’ vision of a vibrant downtown in the coming decades. Is it too much to suggest that this stadium could be to Waco what the Colosseum was to Rome? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The idea intrigues. It excites.

Baylor is more than ready for this move. The gift (and stadium it would help build) acknowledges a golden age in Baylor’s athletics, including the remarkable progress of a football program into real contender status. All this was capped by a stirring, unforgettable season in the Big 12 that culminated in December when quarterback Robert Griffin won the Heisman Trophy, the most coveted honor in college football. It recognized his athletic talents as much as his leadership skills.

Yet this gift recognizes far more than the dizzying pace of Baylor athletics (including the men’s and women’s basketball teams, both currently vying for championship honors in the NCAA tournaments — the men play South Dakota State tonight, the women take on the University of California Santa Barbara on Sunday). It recognizes a new dawn at Baylor, freed from years of infighting and scandal. It acknowledges ambitions as a top-tiered research university, singular in its Christian commitment in terms of integrity, public service and community support — qualities often invested in helping the city of Waco address its challenges and pursue dreams of its own.

Some contend Baylor would be better off funneling money into more obvious Christian endeavors, but such criticism neglects the noble work it already undertakes at great cost. It also ignores the realities of attracting more students and future alumni to this unique campus, there to undergo what some call “the Baylor experience” before setting off into the world to do good on their own. In a way, the football games played out in such a grand new riverfront venue can only convey the competition that students will find beyond campus — and the great victories all worthy endeavors must sooner or later yield.

 

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