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White steers ND in $100 million project

Ken Fowler | Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Editor’s note: This is the final installment of a four-part series looking at Notre Dame’s athletic department under the direction of Kevin White as he enters his eighth year at the school.

Athletic Director Kevin White’s $100 million “master plan” reached another modest, but important milestone April 28 with the groundbreaking of Melissa Cook Stadium, a new softball facility set to rise near Frank Eck Stadium on the southeast corner of campus.

While it’s just one project, the softball stadium is part of a much larger plan that White orchestrated to upgrade the University’s athletic facilities – an ambitious undertaking without parallel in scope or size in Notre Dame history.

The University has raised approximately 68 percent of its goal for the master plan, which White initiated in his early days at Notre Dame. The planning has come to fruition, at least in part, with the slew of construction projects recently completed and underway across campus.

Improvements outlined in the master plan include:

u the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, completed in 2005

u a new year-round golf facility, completed in 2006

u “Athletic Quad” landscaping, under construction now between Notre Dame Stadium and the Joyce Center

u the new softball stadium

u renovation of the Joyce Center’s south dome

u renovation of the Joyce Center’s north dome for a new hockey facility

u a new soccer stadium

u a new boathouse for rowing on the St. Joseph River

u a new lacrosse stadium

u a new track and field complex

u moving the outdoor tennis facility to the current softball location

u a new football practice field with artificial turf

u relocated soccer practice fields

Estimates for totals on the projects include a $21.25 million price tag on the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, a $24.7 million bill for the renovation of Joyce South and approximately $15 million for the hockey facility. Melissa Cook Stadium is expected to cost $4.8 million.

But large-scale plans for athletic facilities are nothing new in White’s career.

In 1998, White highlighted his $20 million fundraising effort at Arizona State with a $5 million naming rights deal with Wells Fargo for the school’s 14,198-seat basketball facility. The deal came less than a year after White announced plans to raise $20 million dollars for Arizona State by 2002. Within a year of the five-year effort’s start, he had raised more than $16 million.

That and other moves White made helped increase Arizona State’s athletic department operating budget from approximately $16 million a year to more than $25 million a year.

Along with his fundraising ability, White’s handling of the aftermath of a point-shaving scandal that occurred three years before his arrival at Arizona State garnered him praise and continued his rise in esteem among athletic directors nationwide.

At Notre Dame, demand for better mid-week facilities, especially in football, was evident early in his tenure. When football coach Bob Davie was fired in December of 2001, the press conference included questions for White about his then-young master plan, and he commented specifically on practice facilities.

“We know we have some shortcomings,” White said.

The plan was slowed by the University’s moratorium on building during the economic downturn of the early 2000s, but has continued steadily since. The past year saw White announce a lead benefactor and a second significant contributor for the renovation of the Joyce Center’s south dome – home to men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball – and the beginning of construction on the new softball stadium, as well as the planned scenic quad between the Joyce Center and Notre Dame Stadium.

With the hockey team’s success this season, much attention turned to Notre Dame’s rink and the desire to renovate the facility for a squad suddenly among the elite. The current arena falls far below contemporary standards.

“I’d be surprised if anybody in the Notre Dame family doesn’t realize we need a new hockey facility. Everybody realizes that. We’re in search of a lead benefactor,” White said. “We’ve got a lot of supporting gifts in place. … That project is certainly not in the witness protection program. It’s out there.”

But even if the school had the necessary funds to complete every project, White said, the construction process for the entire master plan would take time. What’s more, development stages and finalizing plans are only part of the reason for any delays.

“There’s another element to it – that the University can only handle so many construction projects at one time,” White said. “We run into it at almost every turn. We’re almost at capacity.”

If White’s ambitious master plan is realized by the end of his current contract – which runs through 2012 – Notre Dame will have updated facilities used by at least 21 of the University’s 26 sports teams in a dozen years of his leadership.

White seems content with his job, and, with a five-year extension and a two-year extension within three years of his hiring at Notre Dame, is poised to guide the athletic department for at least another half decade.

Aside from his duties in the athletic department, White teaches a sports business class during spring semesters in the Mendoza College of Business as part of Notre Dame’s MBA program.

For him, like for fellow long-term contract holders football coach Charlie Weis and hockey coach Jeff Jackson, the job is much more than just a nine-to-five commitment.

“At the moment, I can’t tell you anything else I’d rather do,” White said. “People that know me well will tell you that I really don’t have any hobbies. This is what I do. This is who I am. I’ve done it for a long time.”