1. You have ties to UB but your heart is Pitt. Give the readers a breakdown of your past.
I attended UB from 1993-1995 and graduated with an MBA. I lived in Buffalo for nearly eight years until I moved down to Arlington, Texas in 2001 following my soon to be wife who grew up in Lockport. I became an avid follower of the Bills despite growing up a Steeler’s fan and got to see some very good Sabre hockey during my time. Previously I attended Pitt for undergrad growing up watching the likes of Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino. The decision to attend Pitt over Penn State was an easy one for me to make given my sports allegiance and my hatred of Paterno and all things Penn State. Unfortunately, UB’s colors are similar to Pitt’s historic rival.
2. Can you please describe what your group is trying to attain with a stadium for Pitt football. What was the reason to form this group?
John Mack, a fellow Pitt alumnus and former band member, and I shared the same passion for Pitt athletics and believed in promoting an on campus stadium. We were just two strangers who started communicating with one another on a Pitt site called Pitt Blather @ www.pittblather.com Therefore, we decided to form a non-profit to help with this endeavor and created a website, www.panther-hollow.org ,to help promote the concept and gather supporters. Our short term goals are to communicate the benefits of having an on campus stadium, to understand the various perspectives on the matter, to conduct pre-feasibility analysis focusing on facts and not opinions, and to persuade the university and civic leaders to perform a full blown feasibility study within the next 2 years.
3. Would you say that funding has been the biggest obstacle? Or something else?
Right now one of our primary goals is to just communicate the concept to a wide audience so we can keep the dialogue going and build momentum for the next phases. Our biggest obstacle thus far has been getting this message out and gathering volunteers to the cause. Recently we’ve been in discussions with an architectural firm to create visuals or renderings of the proposed complex since seeing the idea will help people become believers.
4. I have seen that the reactions to your group have been mixed. Did you expect that reaction? How has it been received from notable alumni and from the administration?
Reactions have been mixed but we fully expected to hear all types of perspectives and different viewpoints are a good thing. Some however get hung up in the details, but we try to keep the conversation at a high level focused on the overall vision. Those details will get flushed out over time and that’s the purpose of conducting a feasibility study. Again, our goal is to plant the idea at the grassroots level and hope that supporters rally to the cause. Therefore, we haven’t reached out to athletic boosters or prominent alumni for their endorsement. We are aware that the current administration does not support the concept, but they are also not on record as to their plans to address the needs for major renovation or relocation of Pitt’s current shared facility, Heinz Field, in the next ten years. Heinz is approaching 15 years and most pro stadiums these days are not built to last beyond 25 years before a major renovation is required to generate more seat revenue, to enhance the game day experience, and to incorporate the latest visual, audio and internet technology. Pitt could be left with the responsibility of maintaining an aging stadium while the Steelers build a new state of the art stadium further in the suburbs.
5. You know that a group has been created to look at new stadium for the Bills? Your group is looking to move away from Heinz field, do you think that UB should have its own stadium or do you see a synergy with the Bills?
I think having a stadium on campus to call your own is a great idea. I understand the value a partnership with the Bills can provide from a recruiting tool to sharing costs and branding efforts. But, the college game day experience is vastly different than the pros. The college experience is more about rivalries, tradition and pageantry. The pro experience is more about entertainment in a comfortable venue. Pro football is a business. When you share a stadium, it’s difficult to balance the corporate motive with the collegiate connection. A college stadium is your university’s personalized house of worship where history and memories are made while honoring the men and women representing your alma mater. Pitt lost part of its soul when it moved off campus to play in a large, sterile environment surrounded by a sea of asphalt lots where half the stadium is filled with fans while the other half is filled with bright yellow seats. By renovating their existing stadium, UB can control the character, charm and intimacy of the environment inside and outside the stadium. Students and alumni can more easily make a connection to the team, school and campus. The stadium could be built in such a way to give UB a true home field advantage and make the environment very intimidating for opposing teams.
6. Can you see a scenario where a roofed area on campus can have basketball, baseball, football (including practices), soccer, and ties to the community?
I firmly believe that all Northern schools should invest in retractable domed stadiums and field turf. Northern schools are at a competitive disadvantage due to the weather since it limits their ability to get the required practice hours. And contrary to what some people believe, southern schools are not intimidated by cold and snow just like UB wouldn't be at a significant disadvantage with the heat and humidity of Florida. An indoor environment also makes the viewing experience far better for the fans on cold or rainy days; moreover, indoor stadiums can take advantage of certain technology to make the game day experience more interactive and fun. In addition, a multi-purpose stadium will serve more than just one program. Basketball, soccer, lacrosse and possibly hockey could share the same domed facility as opposed to each having their own home. And a dome with its unique design will help amplify noise levels and provide UB with a new symbol on campus which can be used in its branding efforts to attract quality students and athletes. Granted a dome would add to the price tag, but it will probably help attendance since weather is no longer an excuse and savings are realized by not having to construct those separate facilities.
7. Would the athletic area be better served on Main Street campus or stay in Amherst? Easier access to Amherst but could the building help the Buffalo University area?
I think what the university is proposing makes sense. There is plenty of land on the North Campus already owned by the university and there won’t be any issues with displacing neighborhood residents. A Main Street stadium makes sense if the university has the money to acquire land, is prepared to deal with the public backlash of demolishing existing housing and wants to help revitalize an economically disadvantaged area. A stadium on Main Street could help jump start new development, become a new focal point for the area and help re-energize the neighborhood. However, I’m afraid that this renaissance option would be the most expensive one to pursue, but the return on investment could be substantially more than a suburban project. It’s definitely an option requiring further debate on the pros and cons.
8. What have been the keys to start getting your vision to actually get the plan in motion?
Well the key is to believe in yourself and the idea. Maintain the passion and let everyone know about it. People may disagree with the idea but they will respect your enthusiasm and at the end of the day we’re all fans of the same team who want to help the school succeed on the field and in the classroom.
9. With this stadium can you see UB moving up one day a higher profile conference? Is this the chicken and the egg scenario. Does UB need new stadium to "move up" or does it need to move up to get the cash to fund the project?
UB needs not only a renovated stadium but better homes and practice facilities for sports besides football. Conferences assess the quality of a school’s sports facilities when determining membership. Pitt would not have been invited to the ACC without the construction of new baseball and soccer stadiums. Universities who demonstrate a serious commitment to athletics have modern facilities and sizeable recruiting and coaching budgets. UB will need to spend the money first to show it’s serious about winning and to demonstrate it understands the importance of athletics to enhance the quality of the college experience and the quality of campus life. I personally think the MAC is a good fit for UB at this point. Better facilities, better athletes and better coaches will allow UB to move up if the school desires, but UB needs to start dominating the MAC first.
10. Tell me what the public perception has been with UB athletics the past five years?
UB is a regional school and probably won’t ever have sustained or widespread national recognition in any particular sport. UB needs to understand its identity and work towards building a brand that can attract a certain athlete and student that best fits their model. Although UB doesn’t have the huge fan base and wealthy athletic boosters like the elite schools, it can carve out certain niches in sports where success and recognition can be achieved. I just don’t think football is ever going to be one of those sports. UB has a better chance at excelling at basketball or hockey. That’s where I think the university should invest their dollars, but I’m also fully aware that football helps pay the bills and supports many of the Olympic sports on campus. A good football program helps make the other programs stronger. UB fans just need to have the proper expectations.
11. Where can the readers go to learn more about your plans?
If you’d like to learn more about the Panther Hollow Partnership’s concept, visit www.panther-hollow.org. John and I would appreciate hearing from you and invite you to become a supporter and believer in the vision to promote an on campus stadium at Pitt.
Thank you Mike for carving time out of your busy schedule. I hope this plan one day comes to fruition for you and Pitt fans.