Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

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Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
The Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is the on-campus football facility for the University of Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, Oklahoma. The official capacity of the stadium, following recent renovations, is 82,112, making it the 16th largest college stadium in the United States and the third largest in the Big 12 Conference (behind Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas and Kyle Field at Texas A&M University). The record attendance for the stadium was set during a 2008 home game against Texas Tech University, with 85,646 in attendance. The stadium is also the site of Spring Commencement exercises for the University. The stadium is a horseshoe-shaped facility with its long axis oriented north/south, with the north end enclosed and the south end partially enclosed. Visitor seating is in the south end zone and the southern sections of the east side. The student seating sections are in the east stands, surrounding the 350-member Pride of Oklahoma which sits in section 29, between the 20- and 35-yard lines. The Sooners' bench was once located on the east side with the students, but the home bench was moved to the west (shady) side in the mid-1990s.

Early history
The first game played at the current stadium site was in 1923, with the Sooners prevailing over Washington University 62”“7. When 16,000 permanent seats were built on the west side of the site in 1925, the new stadium was named Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in honor of university students and personnel that died during World War I. The facility was constructed at an approximate cost of $293,000, and coach Bennie Owen himself helped raise the money. To honor Owen, the playing surface was named Owen Field during the 1920s. (The stadium is popularly called Owen Field, but in actuality the field and the stadium are two separate objects with two separate names. The formal reference is to say that a game is played in Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium at Owen Field). There are two main reasons why the stadium is not a fully-enclosed "bowl" like, for example, Michigan Stadium or the Rose Bowl. First, access to the three outdoor football practice fields, which are behind the south end zone seats, would have been restricted by completely enclosing the south end of the stadium. Secondly, any enclosure would have forced the baseball field, which shared its outfield with the practice fields until 1982, to shorten its left field line considerably. More permanent seating was added, this time to the east side, in 1929. In 1949, the north end of the stadium was enclosed, the playing area was lowered six feet, and a running track was added around the field. The stadium capacity when completed was 55,000 and the addition of south end bleachers in 1957 brought capacity to just under 62,000 fans. AstroTurf replaced the natural grass field in 1970. The west side upper deck was added in 1975, featuring a lounge and a new press box, for a total capacity of 71,187 fans at a cost of about $5.7 million. Improved south end zone seating, including new coaches offices and training facilities, was added in 1980 and the old turf was replaced with Superturf in 1981. With a few exceptions, these changes took place during or shortly after the Sooners' national championship seasons of 1950, 1955, 1956, 1974, and 1975 ”“ all high times for Sooner sports.

Lights, camera, football, money
Up until the 1980s, the NCAA had a tight grip on television contracts for Division I-A college football games. Compared to the current plethora of college football games on television, only two (on rare occasions, three) college football games were televised each week and the schedule of games was set in stone well in advance of the season opening. The NCAA reasoned that televised games cut into attendance, and more TV games would cost more money in lost gate receipts than could be gained with television contracts. In the fall of 1981, the University of Oklahoma joined with the University of Georgia to sue the NCAA in Federal court in Oklahoma City. In this class-action lawsuit on behalf of members of the College Football Association, the two schools alleged that the NCAA's contracts with ABC, NBC, and CBS violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by preventing each college and conference from selling its product on the open market. The court agreed with the schools in 1982 and voided the NCAA's television contracts. Less than two years later, the Sooners and the rest of Division I-A were playing seven to ten games each season on television. This presented a new problem for the University and its stadium. At the time, the thriving Sooners and the hapless Chicago Cubs had one thing in common: neither Wrigley Field nor Owen Field had permanent artificial lighting sufficient for television broadcasts at night. This meant that untelevised home games had to start in the morning or early afternoon so as to be completed by dark, because the cost of leasing a set of portable television lights was too high for a game that would not earn enough revenue to pay for those lights. For all televised games, portable lights on trucks were rented ”“ but the leasing costs cut into the University's revenue, and often the four or five portable light trucks stayed on campus for weeks in anticipation of the next televised game. True night games were very difficult to play in Norman because of the amount of portable lighting needed to illuminate the field adequately for spectators to see the players, much less the candlepower required for television. Prior to 1982, the University knew which games would be televised and could plan months ahead for leasing the necessary lighting. With the successful outcome of the court case against the NCAA, more late afternoon and night games were scheduled in Norman and television schedules changed during the season, requiring large portable light trucks to take up space on campus while waiting for the next televised game. It was not until 1997 that permanent television lights were installed in all four corners of the stadium, along with a new south end zone video scoreboard to replace the antiquated main scoreboard. Owen Field switched back to natural grass (prescription turf) from the aging Superturf in 1994, improving the field's drainage system in the process. (Prior to the drainage improvements it was not uncommon for water to make large pools on the sidelines during heavy rains). These two improvements, the turf switch in 1994 and the lighting/scoreboard installation in 1997, were the only major improvements to the stadium for nearly 20 years.

A 21st century stadium
By 1999, the 75-year-old stadium was showing its age. Except for the turf and lighting enhancements, no substantial upgrade of the stadium had occurred since the press box was built 25 years earlier, in 1975. The OU College of Architecture was housed under the west stands and in the north end zone, until other facilities became available in 1990. The artificial turf on Owen Field had literally become threadbare before its replacement in 1981; it is possible that the poor condition of the Superturf, prior to its 1994 replacement, contributed to a crash of the Sooner Schooner during a 1993 game against Colorado. The east side of the stadium still had the original dirt flooring underneath the stands, making for a cloudy, dusty walk into the student and visitor seating sections. Restrooms were old and inadequate; paint was peeling off external walls and the areas under the stands (the east side in particular) were dark and smelled like dust. Plans began in 1997 to upgrade most athletic department facilities, beginning with a five-year fundraising campaign. Then, unexpectedly, the Sooners won the BCS National Championship for the 2000 season. The University began to get more freshman applications than it could house due in large part to the football team's success. Along with other campus improvements such as more and better student housing, the refurbishment and expansion plan for the stadium was accelerated to be ready by the beginning of the 2003 season. In 2002, every seat in the stadium was replaced and the north end zone scoreboard was dismantled in preparation for replacement. From 2003 to 2004, the entire video and audio systems were replaced and new video scoreboards were placed at both end zones. The west side, long ignored except for the press box construction in 1975, received restroom and concession improvements. Most importantly, a street running east of the east stands was moved to allow for the construction of an upper deck with club seating for 2,500 and 27 suites on the east side, which increased the capacity of the stadium to its current figure of over 125,000. The renovation, led by architecture firms 360 Architecture and HOK, cost $54 million. The north and west entries were renovated to match the Cherokee Gothic look of most campus buildings, and other cosmetic enhancements were made to the press box. A reflecting pool just north of the stadium, filled in during the 1949 north end zone expansion, was restored in 2000. A new war memorial, listing the names of all Sooners killed while serving in the U.S. armed forces, was placed next to the reflecting pool in 2003. The Barry Switzer Center, under the south end zone, was opened in 1999 and houses the football locker room, video rooms, football coaches offices, the football conditioning center, a state-of-the-art sports medicine facility, and the Legends Lobby, a large museum dedicated to the history of Oklahoma football. The basketball coaches' offices are located in the Lloyd Noble Center, but the rest of the OU athletic coaches' offices, the Athletic Director's office, and the OU Athletics administrators' offices are located in the north end of the stadium in the McClendon Center. $12 million toward the $75 million cost of the stadium project was donated by Christy Gaylord Everest, current publisher of The Oklahoman and daughter of Edward K. Gaylord, in 2002. The stadium was renamed to its current name in honor of this gift. (The Gaylords donated a total of $50 million to the University around this time, including $22 million for a new building to house the College of Journalism).

Recent innovations and future plans
In a February 2007 radio interview, OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione said that a new stadium master plan was in development. Castiglione spoke about replacing the press box and expanding the south end zone seating but gave no timetable or other details. In March 2007, the OU Board of Regents approved an Athletic Department request for $10.3 million to replace the displays and the sound systems of both the stadium and the Lloyd Noble Center. The improvements include the installation of a state-of-the-art Daktronics 16mm HD-ready video replay board in the north end zone, which replaced an older matrix messageboard, and digital 23mm LED ribbon displays along the edges of both upper decks, the north end zone, and the north tunnel entrances. Eight new concession stands were added, along with more than 60 new toilets in the women's restrooms, 30 new water fountains, handrails on all aisles of the upper decks, new speakers in all restrooms, and a new public address system. Phase two replaced the obsolete displays and sound system of the Lloyd Noble Center. The final phase was completed prior to the 2008 season and included replacement of the stadium's south scoreboard and sound system within the existing structure. The new displays are compatible with high-definition television equipment, although no HD cameras were purchased during the project.

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