Last year, when the Texas Rangers announced that they intended to build a new ballpark to replace Globe Life Park (aka the Ballpark at Arlington), plenty of Rangers fans asked the question, “Why?” After all, the park was hardly a dinosaur, built in 1994.
My reaction was different. I thought, “About time.”
Here’s why: The Rangers’ new plan called for a retractable roof stadium, which I considered long overdue. Like many of you, I’ve attended games in Arlington in stifling, melt-your-face-off heat. I remember an opposing pitcher once passing out in the dugout in between innings. During one August day game last year in which the heat index was 105 degrees at game time, the Rangers played in front of tens of thousands of empty seats.
At this week’s annual Tip-Off Luncheon in Waco, Baylor basketball coaches Kim Mulkey and Scott Drew both floated the notion of a replacement for the Ferrell Center. Kim was a little more forceful about it, Scott a bit more subtle. It’s not a new idea — it’s been bandied about for a couple of years, at least.
But this time, I felt like those aforementioned Rangers fans who didn’t see the need for a new ballpark. I shared a similar reaction to that of former Baylor women’s basketball star and guest speaker Suzie Eppers, who apparently leaned over to John Morris during the Ferrell Center talk and asked, “Really?”
Yet I also considered the notion that maybe I was missing something. So I reached out to Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades to pose the query to him: “Does the Ferrell Center really need replacing? Or possibly a renovation?”
It’s a question that Rhoades has been asking to his staff as well, one at the forefront of discussion. That said, they haven’t come to a definitive conclusion, either.
Not yet, anyway.
“Anytime you talk about renovation you have to do your due diligence, to see whether a renovation would be cost-efficient versus building a brand-new facility,” Rhoades said. “Certainly the Ferrell Center is in line for at least a refresh at the minimum.”
So, the Ferrell Center was built in 1988, which isn’t exactly ancient. By Big 12 basketball arena standards, it’s actually tied for the second-newest facility in the conference, with Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum, which also opened in ’88. That’s if you count TCU’s Schollmaier Arena as having opened in 1961, which kind of ignores the $72 million renovation it recently underwent that essentially transformed it into a new arena.
Kansas is universally regarded as boasting the grandest home-court advantage in the league, as head coach Bill Self owns more conference championships (13) than home losses (10) at historic Allen Fieldhouse. That arena opened in 1955, and the Jayhawks have still been able to recruit just fine, thank you very much. Oh, and Allen Fieldhouse is not even the oldest basketball gym in the conference. That distinction belongs to Oklahoma State, whose Gallagher-Iba Arena dates back to 1938.
But facilities are an arms race in college athletics, and everyone wants the newest and nicest. Head coaches use them as weapons of mass construction, so they can build up rosters filled with the most prized recruits in the country.
And the schools in the Big 12 aren’t the only ones that Drew and Mulkey are competing against out on that recruiting trail. Texas A&M’s Reed Arena is 10 years younger than the Ferrell Center. SMU’s longtime home Moody Coliseum took on a $40 million facelift in 2013. Houston’s Hofheinz Pavilion is in the midst of a $60 million redesign slated to be completed in 2018.
Standing pat is not an option. Considering how to upgrade and improve facilities is simply a day-to-day job requirement for the modern-day athletic director.
“Always. It’s certainly always on an athletic director’s mind, always on a head coach’s mind, especially in terms relative to your competition,” Rhoades said. “We think about two things: Are we giving our coaches the best chance to compete at the highest level, and how does that compare to the schools which we’re competing against?”
In that respect, the Ferrell Center is simply next on Baylor’s list. When you factor in the ages of Baylor’s other home athletic venues — everything from McLane Stadium (2014) to Clyde Hart Stadium (2015) to Baylor Ballpark (1999) — the Ferrell Center now stands as the oldest home court or field in use on campus.
Again, that doesn’t mean it’s crumbling at the seams. However, as Mulkey alluded to in her remarks this past week, many of us can remember a couple of Tip-Off Luncheons ago when we all ate in the stands, because of problematic roof leaks.
So then, we’re back to our original question — does the roof just need patching or do the Bears and Lady Bears require a whole new home?
Rhoades hopes to have an answer within the next six months. A major factor of any facility upgrade — renovation or replacement — boils down to money, or what Rhoades called “the funding piece.” He’ll have to line up donors who believe in the vision of a new direction, and are willing to write a check (or two) to help cover the cost.
Another question that Rhoades has been pondering — how big should Baylor’s basketball home be? Current capacity at the Ferrell Center for basketball is 10,284. In almost 30 years in the building, the Baylor men have drawn crowds of 10,000 or more 22 times. The Lady Bears have topped the 10K mark 21 times. Last year, the Bears averaged 6,811 in attendance while the Lady Bears welcomed an average crowd of 6,171.
One of the wisest moves that Baylor’s old athletic director Ian McCaw (and his staff) ever made was reaching out to a consulting firm and researching Baylor’s football attendance patterns as the school was planning McLane Stadium. To many a BU fan, the end zone tarp at Floyd Casey Stadium stood out as a blight on the program, an embarrassing reminder that the school couldn’t fill its own home.
But with McLane, Baylor solved that problem by building a slightly smaller stadium, making it “right-sized” for the fan base while also creating a bit more demand through occasional ticket scarcity.
The same concept could serve Baylor basketball well. An 8,000-seat gym could eliminate the occasional baggy clothes problems.
“Most of us agree that certainly a reduced capacity would suit us,” Rhoades said. “In terms of building that home-court advantage, it makes a much bigger difference when you have a more intimate setting, with seats closer to the playing floor. … So as we go through this due diligence, we’re going to determine what’s the right capacity for us. If you’re going to err, I’d rather err on being smaller rather than too large.”
Baylor will also have to take into account many other questions when it explores the future of the Ferrell Center (or its successor). How will it suit the needs of Baylor’s acrobatics and tumbling and volleyball programs? What will become of the Baylor basketball practice gyms? How about all of the dozens of other events that the building currently houses, everything from Baylor presidential inaugurations to college and high school graduations to, of course, luncheons.
Which is where we all began.
Even after I finished my fajitas, I was still chewing on the question: Does the Ferrell Center really need replacing? Rhoades and his staff will make that call in the coming months. But at the very least, it seems the building will get some sprucing up, which isn’t a bad thing.
Hey, I’ve heard that Chip and Jo may be available next year. Talk about your Fixer-Uppers.