Kyle Ringo
Kyle Ringo

Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn finally announced this week the worst-kept secret in the Dal Ward Center -- that CU is planning to invest in major facilities additions and improvements at Folsom Field and that more details will be available in September.

Bohn explained the maze of bureaucracy that he must navigate just to get to the point where he can share those details publicly. In short, he has to talk to a lot of people and gain their approval.

Nothing screams bureaucracy more than announcing you're going to make an announcement in a few months.

And that got me thinking: Wouldn't it be nice if the big business of CU athletics could actually be run like a big business?

Call me crazy, but it seems like an extraordinary waste of time and money that so many individuals and committees and boards have to approve a project that won't receive a single cent in funding from the university or the CU system.

I'm certainly not saying athletics should be able to build whatever it wants to build as long as it has the money, but I'm sure the process could be streamlined and made more efficient. Now, if the university wanted to chip in a few million, then by all means, have all the meetings and discussion it takes.

But that won't happen because CU doesn't spend money on athletics facilities.

Every athletics facilities project undertaken at CU for nearly 100 years now has been paid for by the athletic department and private donations.


Longtime sports information director Dave Plati said the last project he could think of that was funded by the school was the $75,000 spent to build what is now Folsom Field in 1924. Back then it was called Colorado Stadium.

Every other project has been built with private funds or by issuing bonds that the athletic department then spends years paying off.

For instance, this year the department will spend $3.4 million toward the expansion project that was completed in 2003 on the east side of Folsom Field, adding club seats and suites to the stadium.

Ken McConnellogue, vice president for communication with the CU System, said there is no state law or official rule prohibiting CU from spending money on athletics facilities construction, but it is a long-held practice that the school doesn't do so.

"We don't get state construction funding for auxiliaries and these athletics facilities are auxiliaries," McConnellogue said.

McConnellogue said CU also can't use money it collects in private donations to fund athletics facilities construction projects because 98 percent of the private funding CU receives is earmarked by each donor for specific purposes.

Considering state funding for higher education has fallen to historic lows in the modern era, McConnellogue said it is unlikely the school would use any of the remaining 2 percent on athletics facilities projects. There are too many other needs for that money on campus.

Bohn must do everything he can to change that way of thinking.

After all, expanding the Dal Ward Center and connecting it to a new permanent indoor practice facility with an underground parking garage could mean more classroom space in the new facility, as well as in old offices currently in use by different segments of the athletic department.

Adding classroom and office space, as well as underground parking that student and faculty could use to access the campus recreation center, certainly benefits more than just athletics.

And that means it shouldn't fall completely on the shoulders of the athletic department to pay for it.

But right now it's up to the athletic department to pay for what Bohn called "a transformational" project.

Bohn has already indicated a portion of the project will be paid for by borrowing against future revenue the athletic department will receive from the historic Pac-12 Conference television deal negotiated last year.

CU will begin receiving at least $20 million a year from the conference next year.

If the department dedicated $5 million a year for 25 years toward the project, it would start with a nice chunk of change at $125 million.

Obviously, it will have to pay some interest along the way.

Bohn also seems confident he will be able to raise a record level of private funding dedicated to the project.

He's hoping that sum will have eight digits, which would be truly historic for this school considering, in its entire history, the athletic department has received a total of only seven donations worth $1 million or more.

An interesting side not here: Did you know that more than 50 percent of the private donations the athletic department receives come from people who did not attend the school? That's a pretty amazing -- or embarrassing if you're an alum -- statistic.

This project is vital and long overdue at CU, but if private donations fall short and the school refuses to change its way of thinking when it comes to helping athletics catch up to rivals in the facilities game, it won't be as truly transformational as it could be.