PUCK SWAMI: HOW WOULD YOU SPEND A BIG (FANTASY) HOLIDAY GIFT TO DU SPORTS?

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Photo: X-Stock

It’s the Holiday Season – the season of giving! If you haven’t done it yet, this is the perfect time for a year-end gift to the University of Denver. Assuming you’re not actually a billionaire, perhaps you like to fantasize about what you would do if your check could be for multi-millions – the kind of gift that could transform Pioneer sports for the next 25 years!

How much would it take for a gift to be “transformational?”  Good question. Since we’re fantasizing here, let’s make the fantasy “gift” about the size of DU’s last real transformational gift to athletics – the $85 million it cost to build the Ritchie Center, which opened in 1999. (I know some of the Ritchie Center was gifted to DU and the rest bonded, but hey, let’s pretend it was all gifted!) Considering we’re fantasy-gifting to DU in 2016, that $85 million would now be about $123 million in 2016 dollars. So, we’ll use that higher amount as our fantasy gift, and here’s how we’d spend it:

First off, we would not spend all the money on restarting a D-I football program or building a new palace-like facility for just one sport, as they did in Grand Forks. While those might be noble goals for some, I believe those kinds of expenditures might rob DU of our unique, multi-sport excellence that has been carefully cultivated over time. Instead, our fantasy gift would be broken into smaller (yet sizable) chunks that would help keep our key teams rising in multiple sports and add to the spectator experience of enjoying them!

Second, there would be a few strings attached to a such a gift, as there always are with big gifts. In return for the gift, DU would agree that the Denver “Pioneer” nickname will never change, and that Denver Boone will return to official status as a school mascot. We would then, in turn, fund $5 million in new scholarships for Native American DU students to show substantive, meaningful support for those students. We would also fund a Native American lacrosse statue on campus as a tribute to the founders of the game. The entire Native American gift program would be named for Zach Miller ‘17, DU’s first Native American lacrosse star player.

Here’s how we’d earmark the rest of the $123 million in gift money:

1) Spend $20 million to upgrade the game-day facilities for lacrosse. The seating should be upgraded to a 6,000-8,000 seat stadium, as the men’s program has clearly outgrown the current 2,000-seat Barton Lacrosse Stadium.  There are several ways to accomplish this stadium upgrade. Perhaps this could be done by adding new seating to the existing Barton Stadium in an upper deck and/or a new north side stadium addition replacing the “hill” on the Ritchie Center. Or perhaps it could be done by upgrading the current Denver Public School Football Stadium at Denver South High School, across the highway from DU. We’d want the new/upgraded lacrosse stadium to have individual padded seating sections, state-of-the-art turf, luxury boxes, a student bleacher section, a new big video scoreboard and upgraded locker rooms.

Part of the same $20 million should also be used to develop a dedicated, retractable/covered outdoor party deck to upgrade student, alumni and fan tailgate events to maintain a great game day atmosphere at the new/upgraded stadium. DU could name the facility stadium after legendary DU coach Bill Tierney and name the new party deck after DU superfan Damien Goddard, who has done more for DU school spirit than anyone in the last 40 years.

The DU soccer teams could choose to still play at Ciber field on campus unless spectator demand for their games grows for additional seating capacity, in which case, some soccer games could be played at the new lacrosse stadium, as long as the turf situation could be worked out. Given DU’s recent rise in NCAA soccer, that program could soon outgrow Ciber field on campus within 5 years.

2) Earmark $20 million to build to build a new dedicated indoor varsity practice facility for DU soccer,  basketball and lacrosse (and perhaps other sports programs) at the South High sports complex, as DU is currently too landlocked a campus to accommodate this size of needed facility. DU could also share it with the Denver School system in return for the land to build it. This would please the DU coaches, keep DU competitive with other schools and take some of the high daily usage load off the Ritchie Center while also allowing more use of the Ritchie Center for recreational and intramural sports. It would also allow select lacrosse/soccer games to be played indoors in bad weather, if needed. DU could add a larger varsity weight room, student athlete lounges, sports science labs, offices, meeting rooms, medical/training rooms, video review room, etc. I’d ask that it be named for current DU AD Peg Bradley-Doppes, who has built DU from a hockey school to a multi-sport NCAA powerhouse since arriving at DU in 2005 and who, in my opinion, is the best athletic director we’ve ever had at DU.

3) Set aside $15 million for upgrades to the current Ritchie Center. (The RC is now pushing 20 years old and could use some new tweaks). While we don’t need more seating, it is time to add some new, revenue-producing luxury boxes on the east side. We also need: a new DU Hall of Fame/Museum space to replace the currently underwhelming HOF plaques in the West concourse; a new bar/restaurant deck space on the east side; a much better DU merchandise store; and new concourse graphics/banners to enhance our sense of DU sports tradition. DU should also consider adding some solar panels on the Gates Field House roof to reduce Ritchie Center energy costs. DU should also retrofit the current DU student section into bleacher seating for better student section identity and easier general admission/standing room and also erect a pep band/cheer squad platform into that section to better accommodate spirit squad integration without blocking fan views. The naming opportunity here would be designated for Murray Armstrong, DU’s legendary hockey coach who won 5 NCAA titles at DU from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, and established our hockey program as one of the nation’s elite. He deserves a more fitting public tribute than his current statue, which is squeezed beside the Bavarian Nut cart on game nights. (The current hockey locker room is also named after Armstrong, but few members of the public see that tribute either.)

4) Let’s spend $15 million to upgrade the current (and quite spartan) Denver Public School baseball and softball fields at Denver South High to NCAA D-I standards and then add those two varsity sports to DU. This would make DU even more attractive for an overall multi-sport conference upgrade, which is something that other higher conferences want DU to do to be considered for admission. DU should include appropriate locker rooms, some luxury seating, a party deck between (and overlooking) both stadium fields and new video scoreboards. Once again, DU would share the facilities with Denver Public Schools in return for the upgrades of their existing facilities. DU could name the complex after former Major Leaguer Dan Schatzeder, the most famous DU baseball player of all time, and Jack Rose, the longtime DU baseball coach who built the program from the 1960s until it was dropped in 1999.

5) Spend $7 million to upgrade the tennis complex at South High to indoor/outdoor courts (as has already been envisioned among high-level donors) which DU would then share with Denver Public Schools and the Denver community. Then, remove the six current DU Stapleton Tennis Pavilion tennis courts and convert the site to a new beach volleyball facility (with seating for 1,000 fans and a party deck) and start a NCAA beach volleyball program at DU. The sport is growing in popularity with over 50 NCAA D-I women’s programs already, and could also make us more appealing to other western conferences. Since DU has never produced a super well-known tennis or volleyball player, we’ll name it after the most famous DU alumnus, former US Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice, BA’74, PhD ’81, just for fun.

6) Spend $5 million to build the “Boone Bridge” a covered, solar-heated, glassed-in bridge over I-25 that would connect the new DU facilities at South High to the current DU campus and to the RTD light rail station. We’d outfit the new bridge with a giant electronic billboard to promote DU events to the thousands of cars passing underneath each day on I-25, and DU could also sell advertising to others to help pay for it. The Bridge would become a beacon for DU and part of a memorable, safe and climate-controlled game-day march to the new facilities for DU students and fans. This bridge would be named after Denver Boone, the mascot of the Pioneers.

7) $5 million should be set aside for new league entry/old league exit fees and opponent travel incentives to facilitate a new conference home for DU — West Coast Conference, Missouri Valley Conference, Big East (longshot, I know) — or to build a new conference with other disgruntled private schools. DU needs money for this purpose so that the school can easily make the move when the timing and invitation is right. Until then, we’re okay with the Summit League, especially if North Dakota is added to the conference.

8) Spend $4 million to help upgrade the hockey locker room complex at Magness Arena to be even more state-of-the-art, well beyond the current $2 million new locker room project already underway in the fundraising phase. DU should make this a fund for DU Coach Jim Montgomery to do what he needs to do to keep DU at the forefront of college hockey recruiting. And this fund should be named for Ron Grahame ’73, DU’s all-American goalie and current Deputy Athletic Director.

9) Earmark $3 million to endow major head and assistant coaching positions in perpetuity for key sports, so that DU can afford to keep our great coaches here, and attract new great coaches through the years. I would name this fund after Former DU Hockey Coach George Gwozdecky, who restored the pride to DU with his NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005, as well as other hardware and achievements with the DU program. In my view, that would be both ironic (given Gwozdecky’s contract dispute which ended his DU career) and iconic at the same time.

10) Spend $5 million to upgrade and endow DU spirit squads (a better and bigger recruited pep band, cheer teams, dance team, Boone mascot program, etc.) and make sure these groups are of large enough size, quality and funding levels so that they can always travel to key NCAA Championships events, etc.  We’d call this the “Puck and Mrs. Swami School Spirit Fund”, because we are the “gifters” in this fantasy, after all.

11) Spend $5 million fund to brand, advertise and promote DU sports events in the Denver community to help sell more game tickets and help make DU more relevant to the oversaturated Denver sports market. Part of this gift would also be used to organize special Denver sports events (e.g. Battle on Blake, NCAA lacrosse at Mile High,) and bring in some concert entertainers to turn some of these games into large events, etc.

12)  Spend $4 million for fan and team transport. This would include charter jet flight time credits and a high-end team sleeper bus for team sport transport and a permanent fleet of DU buses that could be used to transport groups of DU fans to events, including ski meets. We’re 23-time and current National Ski Champs and 99% of DU fans have never been to a DU ski meet! When they aren’t being used for ski meets, DU could use the buses to take DU fans to regional away games such as Colorado College, CU, CSU, Wyoming, Air Force, Omaha, UNM, Front Range or to NCAA tournaments, etc.  Some of that money could also be used to buy a big RV decked out in DU colors as a centerpiece and meeting point for away-game tailgate parties, too. We’d name this fund the Fisher Fund, after 40-year DU fan Steve Fisher, who rarely misses a DU home game in any sport.

13) Create a $4 million endowment to help with guarantees and start tournament events to upgrade schedules in those sports where it is difficult to bring in brand name, non-league opponents to Denver. We’re looking at you, men’s basketball. This fund gets named for LetsGoDU bloggers Tim Thompson and Nick Tremaroli, because well, they put their hearts and souls into DU sports, too.

14) We would set aside $2 million to upgrade the DU Soccer fan experience, as it has big growth potential as a spectator sport at DU, with both the men’s and women’s programs. The DU soccer stadium could use a new video screen, and it would be fun to build a rowdy student section behind the south goal with a tailgate/party facility to give the students their own area for the games. Get the band and cheer teams at these games, too!

15) We haven’t forgotten gymnastics, either. We’ve set aside $2 million to help the Pioneers break into the top 5 in the country in gymnastics, which is the next level for the program. The coaches could use the money any way they wish, although a stipulation of the gift would be to set aside $100 per meet for earplugs for adult fans wishing to mitigate the shrieking from all the 9-year-old girls who attend DU gymnastics meets!

16) Finally, we’d give $2 million to DU’s swimming program to add some better seating beyond the five rows of current cement bleachers, as well as a party deck at the El Pomar Natatorium in the Ritchie Center to help increase meet attendance.

Well, there you have it. How would you spend some fantasy money for DU sports? Let us know in the comments below!

Puck Swami is the Internet moniker of a long-time DU sports fan and alumnus. He shares his views periodically here at LetsGoDU.