Throughout the 2017 IU football season, an imposing, multi-story work-in-progress towered over the South end zone of Memorial Stadium.
Despite its unfinished aspects and drab gray pillars that held up the three levels of the new complex, the South end zone construction served as a tangible embodiment of progress and the future.
For IU Athletics Director Fred Glass, the $53-million renovation project shows just how far the football program has come. Speaking at Big Ten media day last summer, IU Coach Tom Allen said the project, even when incomplete, displays growth and expansion.
“It's huge,” Allen said. "It's great for our recruits to see the growth, number one. Number two, it's real. You can talk about, 'Hey, we got these plans.' Well, no, they can look over there and see it all.”
The new structure will provide a permanent home for the IU Excellence Academy when work is completed ahead of the 2018 season. Features of the Excellence Academy will include centers for sports medicine and technology, life and leadership skills, career counseling for student-athletes, and a state-of-the-art nutrition center.
Externally, the new South end zone building will have a multi-purpose terrace, a brand new 42-by-91-foot scoreboard and a prominent entry plaza on the outside of the stadium that Glass said he hopes will serve as the front door for IU athletics.
Columns on both the inside and outside of the stadium will help support the building. Glass said he wanted to intentionally highlight the columns to keep with the aesthetic tradition of Memorial Stadium.
“The columns are a big piece of Memorial Stadium,” Glass said during a tour of the renovations in the fall. “We're carrying that feel through the South end zone much like we did in the North end zone.”
Significant donors for the project include Glass and his wife, Barbara, as well as the Irsay family, which owns the Indianapolis Colts. In addition, alumna Dena Rae Hancock and Rob Caito made a donation and their names will be placed on the leadership and like skills center.
The completion of the South end zone renovation and Excellence Academy will provide a conclusion to a nearly 10-year upgrade to Memorial Stadium. The North end zone, which includes a student-athlete development center and additional seating for fans, was dedicated in 2009.
The Excellence Academy was actually established in 2010, but was in search of a permanent home until this new project. Glass hopes that the new construction and additional refurbishments around Memorial Stadium will bolster not only the team’s reputation, but also the athletic department and school’s images as well.
For a team seeking a “breakthrough” that never quite came in 2017, a new-look stadium will only help for recruiting and fan interest. Glass and Allen are both aware of the impact the South end zone can have on the program. When the project is completed after more than 18 months of construction, it could signal a new era for IU football – one that prides itself on excellend.
“It's important that Indiana University has a football program worthy of our brand of being excellent," Glass said. "More importantly, to have a football program worthy of having the respect of Indiana University and our fans.”