Legislators Give Go-Ahead to Football Stadium
For Lew Perkins, UConn's director of athletics, the effort to bring Division I-A football to Connecticut has occupied part of every day since he came to UConn in 1991. So when Gov. John G. Rowland signed legislation Tuesday morning that provides funding for a 40,000-seat stadium in East Hartford, Perkins was overjoyed.
Standing behind the governor during the bill signing, Perkins shared a sense of accomplishment with senior associate athletic director Jeff Hathaway.
"The final vote by both chambers of the state legislature and the actual signing into law by Gov. Rowland of the stadium project was a very fulfilling time for everyone who supported upgrading our football program," Perkins said.
"This has been a challenging nine-year process and the end result provides a wonderful opportunity for our football program and the UConn Division of Athletics as well as the entire University and the state of Connecticut," he said. "We are especially pleased to be the only institution in the nation ever afforded an opportunity to move from the ranks of a Division I-AA football program to status as a member of a Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Conference - The Big East.
"Our thanks go out to so many who have helped bring this dream to reality - President Austin, the Board of Trustees, the UConn student body, our Division of Athletics staff, the UConn Communications staff, the Alumni Association, the more than 15,000 members of Friends of UConn Football, and so many other supporters of our extended University community," he added.
The stadium, which will be built and operated by the state, will be constructed on the former Rentschler Field. The land was donated to Connecticut by United Technologies Corp. Construction of the $90.75 million stadium will begin in May 2001, with completion scheduled in time for an Aug. 30, 2003 game against Rutgers.
UConn football, as the primary tenant of the facility, will have scheduling priority. Other possible uses, including concerts, high school football and professional soccer games, are under discussion.
UConn junior Greg Waddell, who has taken a lead role in rallying UConn students to the cause of Division I-A football since the General Assembly convened in January, said he was "absolutely thrilled" when the votes were counted.
Waddell, a native of Australia, said he came to UConn to experience the academic, cultural and athletic quality of American universities. Attending major college football games, he said, "will add excitement and spirit to the student experience. I've been involved in cheerleading at UConn, and this is something we needed," he said.
Waddell, who orchestrated the student chapter of Friends of UConn Football, collected more than 2,500 postcards signed by students. Overall, Friends of UConn Football obtained more than 15,000 post cards that were sent to state legislators, asking them to support construction of the new stadium.
"People who have never experienced this level of play are going to be surprised," said John Feudo, director of the UConn Alumni Association and an alumnus of occasional NCAA
powerhouse Boston College. "The influence it will have on the quality of life at the University, the atmosphere, the heightened enthusiasm, has to be seen to be believed."
John H. Driscoll Jr., a 1981 UConn graduate who chaired Friends of UConn Football, also was pleased the process finally came to fruition.
"A number of us have worked on this effort for some time, and finally to have it, for it to be a done deal, is just a thrill," he said. Driscoll added that the move to Division I-A can only build on the visibility and recognition UConn currently enjoys, in both athletics and academics.
"UConn athletics provide a unifying source of pride for the entire state of Connecticut and alumni across the country," he said. "Look at what the basketball programs, men's and women's, have done for the University - increased pride and visibility that have helped transform UConn through higher levels of private investment and student applications. Major college football, playing other great national universities on autumn Saturdays - on national television - absolutely will enhance the University."
Randy Edsall, UConn's head football coach, was pleased but also anxious to get started.
"This is great news for our football program. This is the reason I came to Connecticut, Edsall said. "There are great people here at the University who have worked very hard for this to happen. Now that it has, our challenge is to go out and recruit the finest student-athletes we can to come and make this program a winner."
Driscoll, who is senior financial planner for U.S. Trust's four Connecticut offices when he isn't attending hearings or organizing grass roots efforts, says supporters of UConn football "left no stone unturned." In particular, he cited a series of meetings across the state that helped build the grass roots support.
His efforts rewarded, Driscoll now plans to bide his time until the games begin. Then, he says, that's where he'll be, "hopefully on the 50-yard line."