Why Doesn’t Nebraska Have a 100,000-Seat Stadium?

| by Alex Groberman

Memorial Stadium serves as a home to the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers and is recognized as one of the most historically relevant (in college football terms, at least) stadiums around.

Now, with the Huskers officially moving into the Big Ten where stadiums belonging to the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines have capacities upwards of 100,000 – many are wondering: why doesn’t Nebraska, given its lore and national relevance -- not to mention a record of 311 consecutive sellouts dating back to 1962 -- have a larger home?

The answer is interesting. But first a little history.

It all begins with the stadium’s roots. Back in 1922, faculty, students and alumni of the University of Nebraska all pitched in during a joint effort to raise funds for the construction of a stadium. All in all, $430,000 was put together and the stadium was built in a little over 90 working days. In honor of Nebraska residents who served in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and World War I, the stadium was dubbed “Memorial Stadium.”

Memorial Stadium was officially dedicated on October 23, 1923 at the Homecoming game in which Nebraska and the Kansas Jayhawks played to a scoreless tie. From that point on, as Nebraska created a place for itself as one of the most dominant programs in collegiate football history, Husker fans at Memorial Stadium would make it a mission to create history as well.

In 1994, the Huskers continued on their path past the NCAA record of consecutive home sellouts surpassing the 200-game mark. This occurred during a Homecoming win over Colorado on October 29. In 2009, Memorial Stadium added another chapter to its epic lore as it reached the 300-game sellout mark during a September 26 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette – a game seen by 86,304 people. By the end of the 2010 year, the consecutive home games sold out streak reached 311.

So, given all of the undeniable demand for additional seats at Memorial Stadium, why has the school remained conservative in its expansion plans? Essentially, they’re more or less doing the best they can with the stadium as it was originally built.

Four major additions were made to Memorial Stadium between 1964 and 1972, with an enclosing of the stadium being added by virtue of additional seats in the north and south zones. The move ended up more than doubling the stadium’s capacity, taking it to 74,000. Then, in 1999, 42 luxury boxes were added above the west stands. It was around this time that the stadium was rededicated and the playing surface was renamed after retired head coach Tom Osborne.

In 2006 (although the project officially began in 2004), the school made a series of alterations to Memorial Stadium – adding over 6,500 seats to the North Stadium and taking capacity to 81,067. There were other additions made during that construction project, but the seating capacity boost was the most notable. Then again in 2009, the school went to work on the stadium, only they didn’t try to add seating capacity. Rather, they added two new HuskerVision replay boards, hoping to spruce up fans’ viewing experience.

Last year, the school announced an approved project that will expand seating capacity to over 91,000. The $63.5 million project funds expansion on the stadium’s east side, and features over 2,000 seats in heated and covered areas. Furthermore, 1,000 to 1,500 skyboxes will be added as a result of this enhancement, along with approximately 3,000 general admission seats. Finally, the creation of the first standing-room only area is also part of the plans.

The aforementioned project is expected to be completed in 2013 will make Memorial Stadium one of the biggest stadiums in the nation – just outside the top 10.

What does this mean for the sellouts record? Most likely, nothing. The Nebraska athletic department moved forward with the plans precisely because it is aware of the incredible demand for seating and, if Husker officials could have, they would have broken the 100,000-seat mark with this project.

Unfortunately, when you’re a dealing with a stadium that’s home to as much history as this one, you’re bound by the original construction and have to proceed with slower expansions to ensure that everything is done right.

Because of Nebraska’s immediate impact on the Big Ten, questions like this regarding things seemingly as trivial as capacity seating are to be expected. But we all know it ain't trivial to college football fans where history is king.

Given what an institution the Huskers have been in college football, it feels odd to compare their soon-to-be 91,000-seat stadium with Michigan’s 109,000-seat home or Ohio State’s 104,000-seats digs. Yet when you factor in the obvious demand for Nebraska home games -- dare we say more demand than Ohio and Michigan -- the questions become even more relevant.

The Huskers athletic department is obviously aware of this and is doing what it can, though. So, while the 2013 expansion is the one on deck that everyone is talking about, don’t be surprised to see further remodeling in the years following as Nebraska chases its spot on the list of top-10 biggest stadiums.