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April 19, 2013

New football facility raises expectations

Earlier this week, Arizona tight ends coach Charlie Ragle told GOAZCATS.com the new Lowell-Stevens Football Facility is a "game-changer."

Indeed, athletic director Greg Byrne has not been shy about changing the game in his short time heading UA sports. Byrne has been particularly aggressive with football. He acted quickly with the release of Mike Stoops, snapped up Rich Rodriguez just six weeks later, and has spearheaded the many renovations of venerable Arizona Stadium.

Byrne has indeed been ambitious. And with a $72.3 million price tag, maximizing return on the investment is not an unreasonable goal. But how will the completion of the LSFF adjust expectations?

Quantifying success through dollars is not an exact science. Opinions will differ, and all are subjective. The first and most obvious answer is readily evident, even to those without rose-colored glasses. That UA is the only program of the former Pac-10 Conference to never play in the Rose Bowl game hangs over every accomplishment.

Dick Tomey was close to reaching Pasadena a few times in his 14 years at the helm. With seven bowl appearances in that stretch, the Tomey years are some of the most successful in program history.

Imagining a coach lasting 14 seasons with seven postseasons and no Rose Bowls in today's college football landscape is unfathomable. Take away Oregon State's Mike Riley, and the Pac-12 Conference's coaches enter 2013 with a combined 13 seasons of experience entering the next season.

The era's prevailing attitude has already elevated the bar on expectations. Add a pricy construction project, and demand would seemingly rise proportionately.

No authority signs off on such costly measures with a goal of merely getting consistently good football. To wit, California fired the coach with the most wins in Golden Bears history, Jeff Tedford, after last season. Coincidentally - or not - last season also marked the completion of $321 million in upgrades to Memorial Stadium.

Tedford had sustained success at Cal, but no Rose Bowl appearances.

The Rose Bowl is a benchmark for UA. But in a decade's time, do one Rose Bowl and a series of eight- or nine-win seasons suffice? Does the LSFF spell national championship or bust?

After all, when speaking to reporters prior to last week's spring game, Byrne compared two-time defending champion Alabama's weight room to the new facility within the LSFF.

But Ragle also mentioned, "Just because you have a nice building doesn't make you a great football program."

Wildcat football has a new recruiting tool and greater amenities for its current players. It's important to note that UA is hardly the only Pac-12 football program that invested in upgraded facilities recently:

*Washington State modernized Martin Stadium to the tune of $61 million.

*Cal christened desperately needed renovations to Memorial Stadium last summer.

*Washington opens the new Husky Stadium this year with a quarter-billion dollars of improvements.

*Arizona State has publicly considered different renovations to Sun Devil Stadium that could begin as early as the end of the 2013 season.

*USC opened the John McKay Center last summer, a $70 million multipurpose facility.

Another commonality uniting each of these programs is their pursuit of college football's pinnacle. Not every team can be No. 1, but none are striving for anything less.

Kyle KensingKyle Kensing
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer

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