Yale Bowl renovations on hold while funds go elsewhere

On Oct. 5, hordes of Yale students, alumni and faculty will descend upon Yale’s most storied and prized athletic landmark. But while Yale will be celebrating its tercentennial in style that night, the Yale Bowl approaches its 87th birthday with no party in sight.

As each year passes and the rest of the University undergoes a much-needed multi-billion dollar facelift, the stadium falls into a greater state of decay — a victim of neglect and the repeated loser in a competition for funds.

Yale administrators have repeatedly said renovating the Bowl is not a priority. Yale President Richard Levin even noted last spring that it was “at the bottom” of the University’s list of projects that need to be tackled.

“It’s something that if there were donor interest in, we would go forward to the extent of that interest,” Levin said. “We don’t want to replace it. It’s a beautiful facility.”

Levin acknowledged the Bowl needs new seats to replace the splintering benches now in place, and that the concrete in lower rows require reconstruction. Concession stands and restrooms must also be replaced. The Bowl was last renovated after the 1993 football season, when the playing field was reconstructed to include new irrigation and drainage systems.

While Yale’s athletic department has been searching for donors, the current effort has so far come up short.

At the Ray Tompkins House, athletics director Tom Beckett considers the project a top priority of the department and is taking multiple steps to launch the renovation efforts.

In addition to collaborating with the University’s development office, Beckett has enlisted the help of legendary former Yale football head coach Carmen Cozza to spearhead fund-raising efforts.

“When Tom approached me I jumped at the opportunity,” said Cozza, who won an Ivy League record 179 games in 32 years at the helm of Eli football. “I saw it as a chance to restore this place to the sanctuary that it has always been to me.”

Officially on board as special assistant to the athletics director, Cozza has spent the last four years pitching the project to football alumni and boosters. He has traveled the country making presentations, placed thousands of phone calls and mailed countless pieces of information in his drive to resurrect the Bowl.

“I’ve contacted every one of my former players, and a number of guys from before I started coaching here,” Cozza said. “I’ve asked each one of them for financial contributions, and a good number of them have responded.”

Cozza’s efforts have yielded over $2.6 million, and he has earmarked the funds to go toward the outside concrete structure of the Bowl, including the facade and the 30 portals. Cozza is about $1 million short of the total needed to overhaul the Bowl’s outside concrete, but sources throughout the athletics department said they believe the support exists to move forward sooner rather than later.

“I did a function in New York last Monday with Governor [George] Pataki in which he mentioned the renovation of the Bowl and its importance to Yale,” current head football coach Jack Siedlecki said.

In return for their contribution, every donor will have his or her name on a commemorative plaque that will be displayed somewhere in the stadium.

All involved know that a comprehensive renovation would be costly — far more than $3.6 million — especially considering that the Bowl is used only sparingly compared to other key University structures.

“There are renovations and then there are renovations,” said Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer. “To do a total renovation of the Yale Bowl would be a massive undertaking.”

But the daunting task does not discourage the athletics department.

“What we’re trying to do is resist the aging process and restore the luster of the Bowl that we’re so proud of,” Beckett said.

In the past, Yale athletic building projects — including the Smilow Field House, the Brady Squash Center and the Lanman Center at Payne Whitney Gymnasium — have been driven largely by a single donor.

In this case, however, Beckett envisions the entire Yale football community to unite.

“We’re looking for every Yale football player to help us with this project,” he said. “I think that would be a wonderful statement about the impact the Bowl has had on their lives.”

Until the money arrives, though, the Bowl’s age will continue to show.

“My concern is that the longer we wait, the worse it’s going to get, and the more it’s going to cost,” Cozza said.

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