TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One can now buy Alabama branded turkey legs at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It’s one of the new amenities added to the facility this season, in addition to better cell-phone coverage and metal detectors, a year before the Southeastern Conference mandates upgraded security at all major venues.
The changes are notable, but nothing like what’s to come.
In August, Alabama unveiled plans for what’s next for the athletic department, a massive fundraising and facility initiative that’s beyond ambitious and will dramatically change the look of the program over the next decade.
The wide-ranging plan nicknamed the "Crimson Standard" has the aggressive goals of raising $600 million in 10 years.
Pledges of $158 million have already been raised, including $1 million from Nick and Terry Saban.
"We spent the last year and a half looking at our history and analyzing where we are currently to help create a vision for a future that enhances Alabama athletics," Director of Athletics Greg Byrne said when announcing the massive initiative. "Evolution of the facilities is critical as we move forward."
That evolution will include two rounds of upgrades to Bryant-Denny Stadium, making it more fan-friendly, and a complete overhaul of Coleman Coliseum. Numerous other sports will see improvements as well, including softball and golf.
But in regard to football what Alabama is doing is bringing the NFL experience to the collegiate game.
This has already been going on for years, especially with high-profile neutral-site settings for games and the College Football Playoff being played in the finest of stadiums.
Despite all the money that colleges are making there isn’t one that could afford to put a Jerry Jones-type facility on its campus.
AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas was built for $1.15 billion. Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where Alabama played for the last national championship, cost $1.6 billion. Levi’s Stadium, where this season’s title will be determined, took $1.2 billion.
The trend is only on the rise. Las Vegas Raiders Stadium, currently under construction, will come in at $2.4 billion. Los Angeles Stadium, which will host to a number of large events including the 2028 Summer Olympics, has a $2.66 billion price tag.
Having that kind of facility simply isn’t realistic for a college program, even Alabama.
But having an NFL-type of expereince is.
The Crimson Standard renovations will be done in three phases, with football the focus at both the beginning and the end.
The initial work on Bryant-Denny Stadium won't begin until after the conclusion of the 2019 season, but $75.5 million has already been approved for phase I. It will include a new large video screen added to the top deck on the south side, along with a terrace area for students.
Byrne said terrace was inspired by a trip he made to Lambeau Field.
Meanwhile, three new club areas and 3,826 new premium seats will be added. New skyboxes will be inserted on the east side of the stadium, with premium Founders Suites on the west side costing $5 million each. All existing skyboxes will be renovated and updated, which was needed anyway. The press box will be moved from midfield.
Giant video board … terrace … more club areas and skyboxes. These are things that have become staples at every NFL stadium across the nation.
The football facilities will also be upgraded as part of phase I, including the locker room, a new medical treatment facility and the weight room will be pushed out another 36 feet to help accommodate a new Sports Science Center.
The weight room is already nicer than just about any in the NFL.
“To improve the weight room, the locker room, to make the improvements to the stadium that we’re talking about are all things that I think will continue to provide Alabama to have a standard that is No. 1 all across the country,” Nick Saban said. “I think people try to emulate what we do on the field, off the field, so I think to continue to be proactive and progressive in the future is only going to help us keep the kind of standard relative to everybody else that we need to have continued success.
“To reinvest in the players and the programs here to make Alabama’s athletics programs continue to be great in the future is a sacrifice that we all need to make in terms of all wanting to have success — we can’t be complacent about what we’ve been able to accomplish in the past. We have to look forward to what we need to do in the future.”
It’s during Phase III that the fans will start to really feel the NFL experience in Tuscaloosa.
It includes adding concourses and extending the exterior of the west side all the way out to the street. There will be stadium areas in which fans can see the players walk out from the locker room and club sections at field level.
Some of this is already being done at other schools, but what Alabama wants to do is set the new standard. Thus the name.
It won’t be the same as the NFL, but as close as one can get.
"We're going to set the bar to move away from our other competitors," university president Stuart Bell said about the biggest athletic initiative in the history of the university.
It’ll be more changes and upgrades than you can shake a turkey leg at because more is still considered better in college football. It just might soon no longer feel like the same game.