Updated: Video boards coming to Notre Dame Stadium

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Even as the final curtain came up Tuesday on the long-simmering, still-contentious and brashest step yet into stadium modernization, Notre Dame, almost fittingly, tiptoed its way to final confirmation.

No press conference. No neon quotes. No artist renderings.

Buried in the fifth paragraph — after mentions of restrooms and concessions, no less — finally were the magic words.

Video board.

Deferred as only a possibility, not an inevitability, when the Campus Crossroads stadium expansion/renovation project and its $400 million price tag were unfurled 20 months ago, video boards are decidedly coming to Notre Dame Stadium in the fall of 2017.

Specifically, the largest of the three will be located at the south end of the stadium, with two “ribbon” boards — one each on the east and west sides.

The school pledges there will be no advertising or commercials associated with use of the video boards. More importantly, to traditionalists, none of them will obscure the view of the Touchdown Jesus mural on the Hesburgh Library.

In fact, the north scoreboard will be removed in 2017 when the video boards go up, actually enhancing the view of the campus landmark.

“We are confident the introduction of video will significantly improve enjoyment of every aspect of a game at Notre Dame Stadium — including the ability to support game-day introductions and presentations with video elements, additional opportunities to promote the University, plus replays,” ND vice president and athletic director Jack Swarbrick said via prepared statement.

He’s likely just as confident, albeit privately, that there will be blowback from traditionalists, who fought, threatened and whined through the less-seismic recent stadium innovations, including adding a FieldTurf artificial surface and amping up the facility’s sound system.

That didn’t keep him or Irish head football coach Brian Kelly from advocating for what they saw as the marriage of tradition and technology, with the top of the wish list being video boards/JumboTrons.

When Kelly made his most ardent and unmeasured pitch, in late October of 2011, the fifth-year seniors he had inherited and coached for a season and a half owned a 15-16 record in home games.

It was about creating a more intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams, too often greeted with the golf clap for Kelly’s liking, as well as enhancing the home fan experience.

Tuesday’s announcement theoretically helps on both fronts to varying degrees:

• The addition of vinyl-clad benches throughout the stadium, replacing the wood bench seats, as well as establishment of an 18-inch standard width for all bench seating. The current width is roughly 16 inches, particularly in the lower bowl.

• Improvements to the Wi-Fi network within the stadium.

• Enhancements to the existing sound system within the stadium bowl.

• Renovation of restrooms and an increase in the number of women’s restrooms.

• Renovation of concession stands.

• Renovation of both the lower and upper concourses, including improved lighting, seating areas, enhanced signage and video monitors.

None of those have been anywhere close to as historically divisive as the video board issue. In fact, Swarbrick’s predecessor, Kevin White, told the Tribune in the fall of 2007, not only didn’t he think Notre Dame Stadium would have video boards in his lifetime, he didn’t envision the school having them in then-freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s lifetime, either.

White, who left ND to become Duke’s athletic director less than a year later, in 2008, is still alive, and will celebrate his 65th birthday on Sept. 25. The Blue Devils next visit ND Stadium on Sept. 24, 2016, a little less than a year before the video boards arrive.

Temple — on Sept. 2, 2017 — will be the first opponent to face the Irish once the Campus Crossroads project has been completed. The first regular-season matchup ever between the Irish and SEC Power Georgia ensues the following week at ND Stadium.

Currently 105 of the now 128 FBS schools play the home games in facilities with video boards, some of which belong to professional teams. All but seven of the 66 Power Five Conference teams (including independents ND and BYU) have JumboTrons or the equivalent of them.

“If you look at many pro stadiums, with the big video boards, they look like a circus,” Notre Dame president John I. Jenkins told the Tribune in January 2014, when the Campus Crossroads project moved from drawing board to committed reality.

“They just don’t have that traditional feel, and we don’t want to lose that. And in the minds of many of our supporters it’s the tension between preserving the tradition while embracing whatever developments will enhance the experience. I think all of those are part of the decision.”

The 1.4 million square feet of Campus Crossroads additions — primarily in the form of a student center, classrooms, offices, a digital media center, meeting rooms, and, yes, premium seating for football — are expected to be completed by August of 2017.

It may be overly ambitious to project the end of debate over the validity of the innovations to have the same timeline.

“In my job, I feel the responsibility of continuing what my predecessors had, which was vision,” Jenkins told The Tribune. “To not simply keep on doing what you’re doing, but to imagine a new possibility. And what excited me the most about this is that vision, to see a possibility where people haven’t thought of that before.

“It strikes me that it represents the best of Notre Dame. And I hope it’s seen that way, a sort of integrated crossroads for various activities for the university to preserve the community, to preserve the connectedness, to preserve the beauty of campus.”

FEEDBACK

Tribune readers took to Twitter to weigh in on Tuesday's announcement.

Are the video boards unwanted, or overdue?

@mikevorel Overdue. It adds to the experience. No negative impact in any way.

— Jeff Herr (@jeff_herr) August 25, 2015//

@mikevorel It's time (It's been time).

— Kevin O'Connor (@quinoconnor) August 25, 2015//

I'm a curmudgeon, but I kind of like this development, esp. since my seats are in the north end. https://t.co/625rmBlB6b

— Jeff Pojanowski (@pojanowski) August 25, 2015//

@mikevorel Overdue, but not LONG overdue. Hope they take a cue from the Cubs and develop complementary content, colors, and coverage.

— Timothy M. (@timmythetweeter) August 25, 2015//

@mikevorel ND should lead the way on facilities and game day experience, not be 20 years behind. Can't wait until it's all done!

— Nick Davis (@ndavis2) August 25, 2015//

Cody Ringle of Florida looks out onto the Notre Dame Stadium field from the fifth floor of the press box during a stadium tour Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. (SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES)
A crisscrossing array of large construction cranes is visible Tuesday on the University of Notre Dame campus as work proceeds on the Campus Crossroads project around Notre Dame Stadium. Work has been progressing steadily since November on the $400 million project, which in­volves constructing new academic and student life buildings on three sides of the football stadi­um: a nine-story student center/student life build­ing on the west side; a nine-story anthropology/ psychology/digital media center on the east side; and a six-story music building on the south side. The project is expected to be completed in summer 2017. Construction continues on the Campus Crossroads project on Tuesday, March 17, 2015, at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)