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Expanding Your Stadium Won’t Lead to On-Field Success

For programs in transition, change is not something you can buy through a few thousand more seats.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Change is an eminent part of college football, despite traditions seemingly trying to keep things the way they are. Teams that have had a bad year or stretch of struggling face the most change usually, a common practice in a sport where more winning means more money and coaching dividends need to pay off fast.

Take the East Carolina University Pirates as an example of that want of change. After leading the Pirates to a 10-win season in 2013, former head coach Ruffin McNeill was unable to reverse the team's slide to a 5-7 record. Facing that downward regression, the Pirates fired McNeill in an unpopular move and later hired former Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery with the hope he would switch things up and change the culture of the team.

But the head coaching position is not the only thing that will change for ECU. Recently the team confirmed a $55 million facility renovation plan which includes adding a 1,000 seat club area and improved press area to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium by the fall of 2018.

While this may be a great step in the game day experience for fans looking for a premium location, what kind of boost does it give to a team to have their stadium renovated and/or expanded?

Athletics departments constantly boast the supposed benefits of expanding, continuing a cycle of fake change without a reason describing what that expansion will do besides put more butts in the stadium.

"We are very pleased to announce this bold and transformational vision for our athletics program," ECU Athletic Director Jeff Compher said in an ECU news release. "It is an ambitious project that enhances Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Bagwell Field and upgrades other facilities that serve our students and coaches."

This falls into a flawed system of thinking that because you want change, you should have it, and that expansion will help facilitate that move back into success. Facility expansion should be only when necessary, not a thing you throw around after your program is in a period of unrest.

For some teams, expansion is needed as means to moving up into completing a move to the FBS. NCAA rules say you must have 15,000 fans in attendance over a rolling two-year cycle.

Looking at recent program additions, Charlotte's Jerry Richardson Stadium has the capabilities to expand from its current 15,000 seat arrangement to 25,000 and 40,000 seats for the future, an expandability they built into their design along with their FBS intentions.

Coastal Carolina is looking to add seating to Brooks Stadium before joining the Sun Belt, despite failing to gain approval from the state for a second time, though they have no choice if they want their current 9,214-seat stadium to remain NCAA-compliant.

Old Dominion is another example of a team that needs an expansion. Filling up Foreman Field for every home game, the Monarchs have sold out 48 consecutive games at the 20,118 seat venue. Foreman Field broke ground in 1936, a service time that has lasted over 80 years.

According to Harry Minium of The Virginian-Pilot, Old Dominion added 15 more suites after the first 12 sold out and had every single season ticket available sell. Looking at the Monarchs situation, an expansion or new stadium is perfectly reasonable because they have simply out-grown their stadium.

For ECU, they led the G5 in attendance in 2015, averaging 43,274 fans per game. That may have been the best, but it is still nearly a four percent drop in attendance from the year prior. Chalk that up to the results of the season if you like, but the Pirates have only averaged 50,000 fans one time since the 2009-10 expansion that got them to that number (2011).

Within that context of a recent expansion, a losing season and a downward trend in attendance, East Carolina appears looking to expand without a sure reason why other than ‘we have this money, let's buy something.' That kind of logic makes about as much sense as building an expansion to your house to place all the extra air.

Will ECU improve next season? I think so, even with a rookie head coach. Do I think they should have expanded in their current situation? No, I don't see it as making sense.