By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer, Video by Nate Smith | Broadcast Reporter
Over the past decade, Baylor athletics has not only changed on the field, but the fields have changed, too. From McLane Stadium to Williams Golf Practice Facility, the prestige of the university has brought new and improved facilities to its student-athletes.
Baylor’s renovation project began in 2014 with the opening of McLane Stadium, the flagship property on I-35. A downgrade in seating from 50,000 to 45,000, Henry Howard, associate athletic director for capital projects and championships, said the new spot on the Brazos wasn’t an SEC “how many seats can we stuff here,” kind of improvement, but one meant to bring the fans closer to the game.
“We knew we could build a very large stadium … the coaches want a game to feel sold out, you know, where the fans are right on top of you really creating a home-field advantage,” Howard said. “You know, I think it’s over 200 million travel I-35 annually. They each see that big billboard saying Baylor University McLane Stadium.”
Prior to the move, people inside and outside of the program were unsure Baylor would ever make that grand of a move, but Jerry Hill, director of sports journalism, said a certain Heisman Trophy-winner gave the Bears a chance to step up with the rest of the country.
“I don’t know that I ever thought that they would build something like that, that kind of on-campus stadium and just that kind of place you see other places but you haven’t seen at Baylor,” Hill said. “It can’t be understated that I think Robert Griffin played a big part in that. I mean, you can say whether it was Art Briles or Robert Griffin, but I think they played a big part in that stadium being built.”
Brice Cherry, sports editor of the Waco-Tribune Herald, agreed with Hill.
“McLane Stadium would not be here without him. I mean, it’s truly the house that RG3 built,” Cherry said.
After the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center was built in 2008, McLane Stadium also represents an easier Saturday for student-athletes. When the Highers Athletic Complex opened, football players no longer had to travel to Floyd Casey Stadium to practice. The weight rooms were moved to Simpson, practices are now at Allison Indoor Football Practice Faculty or the outdoor fields in the complex, rather than team workouts out at Floyd Casey Stadium. Howard said the complex and McLane have heavily affected the lives of the players.
“So Floyd Casey Stadium was about four miles off campus, so that meant every student-athlete had to either drive their car, catch a ride, figure out a way to get to practice. Now they’re walking, they’re using mopeds,” Howard said. “I think it’s significantly impacted their time management.”
The Highers Athletic Complex also features the Beauchamp Athletics Nutrition Center (BANC), which is available to all student-athletes. Players can fuel up before and after workouts, keep up on meals and just have a place to hang out on the waterfront.
“They can do weightlifting, weight training in Simpson, they can walk about 20 yards to the BANC and get their nutrition, and then they’ve got the Allison Indoor to practice, so it’s kind of a one-stop shop and that’s where they’re doing most of their training,” Howard said.
The athletics office is also constantly doing renovations on existing facilities to improve the lives of those they serve. The Williams Family Soccer Center was constructed in 2015 for the soccer team, featuring weight rooms, a coach’s suite and updated locker rooms for home and visiting squads. Betty Lou Mays Soccer Field and Getterman Stadium both received field updates in the past few years, with softball now playing on artificial turf and soccer playing on a sand-based natural grass.
One of the biggest projects this decade was the Billy W. Williams Golf Practice Facility. Completed in 2018, the complex features tee areas and putting greens, along with a clubhouse with locker rooms and a state-of-the-art hitting bay to analyze swings. Howard said it’s just one more way the athletics office is moving to make lives easier.
“In the past, they were practicing at a place called Twin Rivers, which might have technically been Waco, but it felt like McGregor, and it was a 15 to 20 minute trip for the student-athletes and coaches,” Howard said. “From my view, we’re the best in the Big 12, if not the region.”
The university is now in the process of designing the new Baylor Basketball Pavilion, aiming to relocate the basketball teams next to Baylor Ballpark and give a permanent home to the volleyball and Acrobatics and Tumbling teams at the Ferrell Center. Howard said the new facility will be a game-changer for all parties affected.
“We’re hoping it changes a lot of people’s lives and not just the student-athletes. The students, the student body is so important at Baylor. And they’re really the folks that make the home-court advantage,” Howard said. “I think it’s going to be a win for everyone. It can’t get here soon enough, but now that the regents have approved phase one and design, you know we’re going to get moving full steam ahead to make sure it’s the best facility in the country.”