Photo slideshow: Memorial Stadium's east expansion.
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LINCOLN — Tom Osborne said Nebraskans are “going to see some really exciting things'' in the newly renovated Memorial Stadium — and he wasn't even talking about what will be happening on the football field.
Osborne joined University of Nebraska-≠Lincoln officials Thursday in unveiling the soaring $63.5†million East Stadium expansion to Memorial Stadium.
It's a project that not only expands the size of the sea of red on game days in Lincoln but includes laboratories holding the promise for world-class research into concussions and athletic performance.
University officials say the level of collaboration between athletics and academics that will be seen within the East Stadium's new research labs may be unprecedented on any other campus in the country.
“The new research facilities housed within East Stadium represent a point of strength few universities can claim: a true collaborative partnership between academics and athletics,'' UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included cheerleaders and the Cornhusker Marching Band playing the school's fight song.
Perlman described the new addition as a kind of “House That Tom Built.”
It was the legendary Osborne's consistent coaching success that helped create a football powerhouse capable of consistently filling one of the nation's largest stadiums. And it was Osborne's vision as athletic director to create the research partnership with the university's academic side.
Most Nebraskans will get their first look at the new addition when a record crowd that could reach 92,000 comes out for the Cornhuskers' Aug. 31 home opener against Wyoming — the school's 326th consecutive sellout. Public tours of the facility will be held Sept. 18.
With the 6,000 additional seats, Memorial Stadium will now rank as the fourth-largest among Big Ten stadiums and be within about 500 seats of the top 10 stadiums in the nation.
The 3,300 added general admission seats are the first additional seats along the sidelines since the stadium opened nine decades ago. All previous stadium seat additions have come in the end zones.
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There are also 2,119 new club seats and 38 additional skybox suites, bringing the total number of private suites in the stadium to 101.
The new East Stadium rises 165 feet above the field, the same height as the press box on the west side. Fans will reach all the seats and skyboxes by traveling on a series of new escalators up into the stadium.
Each new seat includes a chair back and a front rail for comfort and is 20 inches wide, 2 inches wider than the average for the rest of the stadium.
John Ingram, associate athletic director for planning, believes Nebraska fans will be wowed both by the scope of the massive addition and the view from it.
“I think visually it completes (the stadium),'' he said. “I can't wait for the fans of the Huskers to come in here and experience the new Memorial Stadium.''
Osborne said fans in the upper decks of many stadiums are far from the action. That's not true in the new East Stadium, which instead rises steeply to put fans right on top of the field.
Osborne said that's important when athletic departments are trying to keep stadiums full in the age of high-definition TV.
“Fans want to feel engaged and be part of the action,'' he said. “I think they will here.''
Like the West Stadium expansion before it, the new East Stadium is a totally separate building from the original. That construction approach was necessary because the original stadium, built in 1922, cannot support the additional weight.
As on the west side, the engraved words that graced the side of the old, gray stadium are preserved, visible within the greatly expanded concourses of the new structure. The words are also visible from windows looking out from the new labs.
Indeed, it's the 50,000 square feet of research space that make East Stadium unique.
The Nebraska Athletics Performance Lab at the north end of the building will focus on areas critical to increased performance, health and injury prevention.
The space includes a half-court basketball floor and a plot of artificial turf where athletes can be studied while they perform.
Some 20 video cameras mounted on the ceiling can focus on athletes from any angle, while devices in the floor measure the force of their steps, allowing researchers to better analyze the athletes' movements.
The south end of the building will house the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, which will use imaging technology to better understand brain biology and function.
The center's director, Dennis Molfese, is heading up a major collaborative Big Ten/Ivy League study of concussions in sports, a major concern in college football today.
“This is an exciting resource and an exciting time,'' Molfese said Thursday.
Osborne said the facility could also give Nebraska a leg up in another key area: recruiting.
When prospective student-≠athletes visit campus, their parents are interested not only in athletics and academics, but also in their child's health and well-being. They will see when they come to Lincoln that there is no school that's doing more to promote those things than Nebraska, he said.
“Certainly great things are going to come out of here, things that will benefit mankind all over,'' Osborne said. “But also from the standpoint of recruiting, it's going to be huge.''
East Stadium: By the Numbers
6,000: new seats added, bringing the average attendance to more than 91,000
2,119: club seats added, giving Nebraska 5,341 in the West and East Stadiums
800 tons: amount of reinforced steel
165 feet: new height of East Stadium
38: new suites added, increasing the overall number to 101
36: new restrooms, including 14 women's, 10 men's and 12 family
12: new concession stands
10: eight elevators and two escalators added for easy access to seats
3: number of Husker Authentic Team Stores, counting a new retail store in East Stadium
Memorial Stadium capacity
1923: Stadium opens
1964: South end zone section added, making stadium a horseshoe
1965: Center portion of north end zone section added
1966: Both wings of north end zone added, turning stadium into a bowl
1972: South end zone extended
1994: Capacity reduced to create accessible seating for handicapped
1999: New skyboxes and club seating added
2000: Capacity reduced to add more club seating
2006: North Stadium expanded, skyboxes added
2013: East Stadium expansion to add general, club and skybox seats
SOURCES: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, World-Herald archives
The Memorial Stadium expansion and the ribbon-cutting ceremony.