By Shehan Jeyarajah
Almost from the moment he arrived on campus in February of 2008, head coach Art Briles told the administration that he wanted a stadium. Baylor had not qualified for a bowl game since 1994 and finished winless in the Big 12 in 2007, but Briles thought a stadium would be necessary to take the next step toward becoming an elite football program.
After a Heisman Trophy and Big 12 championship, the “Palace on the Brazos” was born.
The $266 million McLane Stadium is in its final stages of completion and will host its first event on Aug. 28: the annual Traditions Rally, featuring American Idol winner Phillip Phillips.
“The uniqueness is really just the sight itself,” Austin Flintco, senior superintendent Jeff Horn said. “Most stadiums you develop, especially in college athletics, are on existing campuses you have to work through. There are a lot of cool aspects to being able to go across the river and develop 93 acres.”
McLane Stadium will also be one of only three college football stadiums accessible by boat. The university built 16 slips for boats to sailgate on the Brazos River.
The stadium also features large canopies over the crowds that will serve a dual purpose. Not only will they provide shade over the crowd, but the canopies will also contain sound in the stadium, similar to CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
“This is definitely a loud stadium,” Austin Flintco project manager Jim Healy said. “You make some noise, it’s going to echo throughout the stadium. We have a lift running during practice, and you could hear the backup alarms throughout the whole stadium.”
Baylor football played its first scrimmage at McLane Stadium on Aug. 16, and the stadium received rave reviews across the board.
“I dreamed too small when I dreamed about a stadium,” Briles said. “The people involved certainly had bigger, better, wiser, more glorious dreams, because there’s not another place like it. It’s the best stadium in the United States of America.”
Junior defensive tackle Beau Blackshear, a Waco native, said he was excited to cross the footbridge and go to McLane Stadium for the first time.
“Once you hit the top of it and start making that slope down, it all opens up and you know it’s actually real,” Blackshear said. “It’s not just pictures and stuff you’re seeing on the internet, it’s actually here, and it’s time to get this thing going.”
Briles and other athletic leadership have emphasized how significant the stadium will be towards the branding of the university and the athletic program.
“Between 44 and 60 million people that drive down I-35 every year,” Briles said. “I imagine some eight-year-old girl or boy is going to look out the window to the right or left and say, ‘Momma, man, look at that place. That place is beautiful. Where is that?’ And she’s going to say, Baylor. For the rest of their lives, they’re going to associate Baylor with excellence.”
Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw has been the leader of Baylor’s athletic resurgence, and said he sees building McLane Stadium as the next step towards Baylor cementing its place as competitive, both on and off the athletics fields.
“It’s going to be very symbolic of the new Baylor,” Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. “We have emerged as a serious national program.”
Since the announcement of the stadium, Baylor’s recruiting has taken a step forward. Despite their recent success, the Bears historically finish outside of the top 30 in recruiting rankings. With the improved football presence and new stadium, Baylor’s 2016 recruiting class is currently rated No. 2 by 247.
Baylor also announced a partnership with Pennsylvania venue management group SMG to oversee operations at the new stadium. Among SMG’s current clients are Soldier Field, Reliant Stadium and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Not only did Baylor build the first new stadium in the Big 12 since 1980, but they also put a premium on improving the fan experience within the stadium.
“We want to set the standard in a lot of ways [at McLane Stadium], just ask our coaching staff,” deputy athletic director Todd Patulski said. “Not only in the way that we play and how we operate, but the way we build this fan experience.”
The new McLane Stadium will feature a statue of Baylor legend and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. The statue will be unveiled at Baylor’s season opener against SMU, and will reportedly feature an appearance from the man himself.
“We’re looking forward to being able to celebrate Robert’s achievements as a Heisman Trophy winner,” assistant vice president for facilities Brian Nicholson said. “We plan to do it at the first game, and we’re planning on [Griffin] being here to celebrate with us.”
The bronze statue, created by Arizona artist Tom White, will reportedly be almost 10 feet tall and be set in the South end zone. The pose Griffin will be sporting in the statue will be kept under wraps until the statue reveal.
When you walked into Floyd Casey Stadium, it was almost as if fans had to leave their technology at the door. Not only was internet difficult to come by, but even the most basic of cell phone reception seemed to be at a premium.
Baylor athletics announced the Baylor In-Game app. The free app, produced by YinzCam, is built primarily to enhance the game experience. The app connects to Baylor Vision to provide live video and instant replays right from your seat. It also streams live news and stats straight to your phone.
“It is like having a DVR remote on your phone,” assistant athletic director John Garrison said. “You can watch replays and highlights from your seat in the stadium.”
When there is not live game action, the app still streams news to your phone, along with keeping stats and schedule readily available. It also ties in with the @BUFootball Twitter account to live stream tweets. The app is available on iOS devices, Androids and other tablets and personal computers.
All of these and more will be on display at McLane Stadium’s opener at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 31 against SMU. The game will be nationally broadcast on Fox Sports 1.