I have a letter to the editor in today's North Texas Daily, the student newspaper I edited back in the Mesozoic Era, to support a student fee to build a new football stadium at the University of North Texas:
As an NT alumnus and former Daily editor, I'm disappointed that the current staff of the newspaper didn't endorse the athletic fee referendum.
Fouts Field is an eyesore that detracts from the university. It's the fifth-oldest building on campus, the conditions inside are abysmal, the viewing experience is bad because of the infield track and the electrical system is so inadequate that 19 portable generators are required to host games there.
It's amazing that the Mean Green were able to win four conference championships and one bowl game while playing at Fouts.
The question here isn't really if NT needs a new stadium, it's when NT will get one. The current proposal asks less of students to support athletics than any other Texas school with a Football Bowl Subdivision program. The stadium will bring other events to Denton in addition to football, and it will enable the athletics program to attract more corporate support, more televised games and more alumni donors.
In the 17 years since I graduated, I've been amazed upon my return visits by the number of new buildings that have sprung up on campus. The Murchison Performing Arts Center, in particular, should be a point of pride for everyone associated with NT.
The new stadium has the potential to be just as important to the future of the university. I hope current students look hard at the merits of the athletic fee because I think they'll conclude, as I did, that this is a fair way to share the cost of the stadium between students, alumni, donors and corporate supporters.
Football-loving alumni like myself are chomping at the bit to get this thing built. We just can't do it on our own.
One thing you come to realize after leaving NT, if you care about the school, is that students have a short opportunity to make their mark and leave their alma mater better than when they arrived.
I think this stadium is a chance for current students to do that, and I hope that after you've looked at the issue, you'll ultimately agree.
The University of North Texas is a large public school north of Dallas with a student enrollment of 34,000, making it the third largest university in the state. Despite its size, the school lacks the financial support of the better-known institutions in Texas like UT and Texas A&M. I attended UNT from 1988-91, graduating with a bachelor of arts in journalism.
Because I'm in Florida, the Mean Green sports programs are my only real tie to the school, aside from a yearly summer pilgrimage with my kids to the campus in Denton.
It seems inarguable to me that Texas schools seeking stronger alumni support need strong athletic teams, and the decrepit Fouts Field is holding my alma mater back. There are other things that UNT does particularly well -- its music programs are nationally acclaimed, for instance -- but academics doesn't park alumni in front of their televisions every Saturday in the fall. College football gives millions of people an excuse to obsess over their school.
The timing of the vote couldn't be worse. Students are being asked to support a $7 credit hour increase in student fees at a time when the economy's imploding and the football team is 0-6 after six straight blowouts. But I think it will pass, because students know that Fouts is a dump and they'll want to be the generation of students who built a stadium. When I return to Denton, a school where I was newspaper editor and my friend Wade Duchene was student body president, the only things I can find from our time there are a tree planted on Earth Day 1990 and a weird metal plaque on the ground near the administration building that contains just two words: "Helixon-Ruuska."
When I walked past that plaque a few summers ago, I had to be one of the only passers-by in years who recognized the significance. Will Helixon and Jay Ruuska were the student body president and vice president when I arrived at UNT in 1988. I'm guessing they planted one of the trees, but because the plaque is so vague and lies flat on the ground, it looks like some kind of frontier gravestone.