Monday, July 28, 2014

Liberty continues to expand football stadium

Expansion — Barber hopes the expansion of the stadium will lead to a promotion to the FBS. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

When fans file into Williams Stadium Sept. 7 for the Flames home opener against Monmouth, they might want to get a good look at their surroundings, because, much like the rest of campus, the stadium is set to undergo major changes in the foreseeable future.

According to Liberty Athletic Director Jeff Barber, plans are in the works to expand the stadium from the current 19,200 seating capacity to about 25,000 in the next few years. The expansion would add an upper deck to the east side of the stadium, roughly twice the size of the upper deck currently in place on the
west side.

No definite date is set for the addition, but Barber said the construction would most likely begin after a promotion to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) from the current Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) or after a run in the FCS playoffs.
The stadium has already grown since its completion in 1989, most recently undergoing a 7,200 seat expansion and the building of a five-story tower on the stadium’s west side in 2010.

“Building a bigger stadium puts a flag in the ground and lets people know that you’re committed to a higher level of football,” Barber said. “There’s a saying: ‘they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’”

The Flames have been aggressively petitioning for an FBS invite for several years and will be revisiting that plan after the 2013 college football season ends.

“There’s gonna be another wave of change in the culture and the landscape (of college football),” Barber said. “There’s still some shifting going on, and what we’re trying to do right now is position ourselves so that everybody’s more than aware of who we are. We’re doing everything we can to get ourselves out there, and people are noticing.”

Although Liberty’s average attendance of 16,318 ranked 11th in the FCS in 2012, Barber said the stadium still had about 2,900 empty seats per game last season.

However, according to Barber, attendance should rise in 2013, with season ticket sales up 25 percent from this time last year. Barber estimated attendance could climb to around 17,000-17,500 this year.

Unless an unexpected attendance drop-off occurs, the Flames will surpass the 15,000 average-attendance minimum that FCS schools are required to have for FBS consideration.

The 2013 season will see changes to the stadium as well. The new Liberty athletics logo will cover midfield, end zones will don a slightly different appearance and workers are currently in the process of replacing the current blue sideline walls with brick. There will also be a new chancellor’s club area added to the fifth floor of the tower.

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