When Marshall University baseball plays its first game within walking distance of campus in many, many years, it will be in a facility the school and the community can take pride in. But it will also present some challenges.
This past Thursday, the Marshall University Board of Governors was briefed on the stadium’s design by its architect.
Justin Gaa, senior project designer with AECOM in Kansas City, Missouri, said the 3,000-seat stadium, which can be expanded to 3,500 seats for postseason play, will feature three levels, artificial turf, two full-size batting cages, three locker rooms, a team lounge, an indoor and outdoor club with box suites, and an open and transparent concourse.
The stadium will house coaches’ offices and training space for athletes, which Gaa said is an effective way to build a ballpark.
The stadium is about more than baseball. In the competitive marketplace of higher education and intercollegiate athletics, Marshall has to keep up with its peers.
“As you know, the Division I level is highly competitive,” Gaa said. “This facility is going to be exciting not only as a campus asset for athletics, but a community asset. … On the student-athlete side, we were very mindful of how we used the space, so recruiting students was part of the design process.”
The new soccer field, also designed by AECOM, undoubtedly has helped Marshall recruit quality players and become nationally ranked. A similar investment in facilities and programs, aided in part by a $25 million donation from Marshall alumnus Brad Smith, is expected to help the College of Business grow in stature nationally.
Construction plans for the baseball stadium have been finalized and will be advertised this month. Bids will be opened Dec. 19.
The $22 million stadium, along with the land, is being funded by donations raised by the athletic department. The department still needs to raise about $20 million for the project, which is anticipated to be complete by 2021.
Now for the other side of this development.
No one pretends intercollegiate athletics is a money-making proposition except at a very small number of universities. Marshall is not on that list. The stadium will have operating and maintenance expenses that will have to come from somewhere if ticket sales, sponsorships and naming rights do not pay the full load. Universities usually announce the costs of new facilities. Operating and maintenance costs usually are not mentioned. If it is not managed well, the baseball stadium could become a drain on Marshall’s budget.
There has been talk Marshall could lease the field to a minor professional league team. That talk has been around for years, but the stadium will be built as Major League Baseball is talking about reducing the number of minor league teams and putting one or two minor leagues out of business entirely.
Huntington could be a good fit for a minor league team that survives the shakeout. A good stadium could persuade an existing franchise to relocate here if any territorial rights held by the West Virginia Power franchise in Charleston can be worked out.
None of this is meant to throw cold water on Marshall’s achievement in getting a baseball stadium under construction after years — no, decades — of anticipation.
Unless Marshall decides to invest in hockey and an on-campus ice rink, the baseball stadium should wrap up the university’s investment in its major athletic programs for now. That should leave it free to concentrate on academic priorities and serving student needs.
And that is a win-win.