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WVU football: Luck seeks stadium upgrade

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia football has a new conference, a new schedule, new rivals and a somewhat new coaching staff to take the Mountaineers forward.

Yet the program also has increasing concerns about an expanding neighbor.

"What we really need at the stadium long-term is more space," WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck said.

WVU Hospitals and Mon General Hospital resolved a lengthy dispute Monday that allows WVU's Ruby Memorial Hospital, located beyond the north end zone and stadium parking lots, to build a 10-story tower and add beds.

That further shrinks the space WVU football has to add to the Milan Puskar Stadium complex, which has topographical issues to deal with, namely the steep hill beneath the law school on the west side of the stadium.

The Mountaineers could plan and pull off some minor maneuvers with available space, but Luck said the school instead plans to address space problems by making the most of space the stadium already claims.

At a speaking engagement in Bridgeport last week, Luck unveiled plans for a "party deck" near Touchdown Terrace in the north end zone. The revelation conjured up images of seating areas popularized at soccer and minor-league baseball stadiums and that are starting to pop up at college football stadiums.

"Party deck is a bad description," Luck told the Daily Mail on Monday.

For starters, the concrete deck would be inside the gates, but not within the stadium bowl. It would instead be outside the bowl and on the other side of the scoreboard above that end zone. Most other party decks serve as a space from where people can watch a game.

WVU's deck would still function as a gathering space and extension of the concourse area.

"That may be the ultimate use, but imagine as you walk up the north side of the stadium up to Touchdown Terrace. You're going uphill," Luck said. "One thought we have is to create more space and to do that we'd bring a deck out at a level where you could still walk into Touchdown Terrace."

Luck said the project is only in a conceptual phase and would take several years to complete and cost around $20 million. WVU would be building out at a level even with the current entrance to Touchdown Terrace all the way to a point above where the hill leading to Touchdown Terrace entrance begins. That would create space beneath the deck.

WVU could then ask the television trucks that park outside the press box to move there, which would free up space in a congested area. The space beneath the deck would also provide room for a kitchen that the stadium does not have.

Stadium food is prepared off-site and delivered well before the game.

"Everyone complains about the food, and rightfully so, but the only way to get better food is to cook it on-site," he said. "We don't have anywhere to cook."

WVU could also add restrooms and concession areas on the deck. When WVU put an end to its re-entry policy and introduced beer sales last year, it subsequently thickened the crowds in the concourse, concession and restroom areas, especially at halftime.

Luck said there are other ideas to give people more walking space inside the gates.

"I think (the deck) would be an expanded concourse, but we definitely need to move the footprint of the stadium - in other words, the gates - out on all sides, north, south, east and west," he said.

WVU would find ways to use and promote the deck space for pregame festivities. Overall, it addresses Luck's goal to inspect all aspects of the game day experience and improve the ones that grab his attention.  

WVU is improving its cell phone service inside the stadium next season and Luck is happy that will let fans communicate with others, but also check scores or even watch other games on their phones.

"Everybody has the option to stay at home and watch the game on the couch," he said. "That's a very attractive option financially and people can drink their own soda pop and drink their own beer and eat their own food and invite their own friends over. When I was with the NFL and the MLS, we would spend a lot of time, as would the other leagues like the NBA and Major League Baseball, studying the game day experience and making sure it would always remain special.

"Otherwise, you suffer consequences. You have to look at everything you do, how we sell tickets, how we sell food, the quality of the food. That was the driving force behind selling beer. That was not so much about money, but cutting down on the drunks who come into the stadium after guzzling liquor. Let's give them a chance to buy a beer."

Luck said access to the deck area would require no special admission - though he also said there have been no discussions about selling tickets to those who don't have or can't get stadium tickets, or letting groups rent it out for a game.

"Who knows?" he said. "We may put up tents and concession stands and have events before games and then realize, 'My gosh, this is great before the game, but during the game it's empty,' and then figure out there's a reason to put up a big screen and sell tickets there."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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