Campus a host contender for Olympic preliminaries

James Schlemmer

While it may not be Michigan’s “Big House” yet, the new TCF Bank Stadium will be able to do some things the behemoth arena in Ann Arbor can’t. The new stadium on campus could be an Olympic site.

A group called Chicago 2016 contacted University Intercollegiate Athletics this month about using the new stadium as a host for preliminary Olympic soccer games in 2016.

Chicago 2016 is trying to bring the 2016 Olympic Summer Games to Chicago. Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for Chicago 2016 said the University stadium will be a rare commodity in the Midwest.

The stadium’s capacity of 50,000 is less than half of other Big Ten powerhouses, such as Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. However, by having fewer seats, the stadium is able to have a larger field, thus making it eligible for international soccer.

“We are looking for a stadium that is capable of holding Olympic soccer,” Sandusky said. “There are not a lot of them in the Midwest; most old football stadiums close to Chicago do not have fields that are big enough.”

Kyle Coughlin, University assistant program director for Intercollegiate Athletics, said the University made the decision to make the new stadium soccer-capable. He said the decision is win-win.

“There is not much of a difference (in cost) to make it soccer-capable,” he said. “So why not do it?”

For international play, soccer fields must be 115 yards long and 75 yards wide. Most football stadiums in the Midwest lack the necessary width, because seats on the sidelines come too close to the field.

Most stadiums “lack the measurements,” Coughlin said. “They cut the corners and they are all in bowls.”

Sandusky said people in the Twin Cities should be excited about this possibility.

“Anytime the Olympic Games come, people should be excited,” he said. “It will be an opportunity to showcase the University and the stadium while bringing the Olympic spirit.”

Dan Weisz, an astrophysics graduate student and a Men’s Club Soccer Team member, said there will also be a great impact on the increasing popularity of soccer in Minnesota if the games came to campus.

Weisz said there are nearly 80,000 youth players in the state and that number is growing.

“It would be great to point to the Olympic players and show the kids what they, too, can achieve – that soccer is not just a dead end,” he said.

Brian Dobson, aerospace engineering senior and men’s club soccer team president, said it would bring more credibility to the price tag of the stadium.

“It’s just ridiculous to spend $500 million on a stadium that can only be used by one team for approximately eight games a year,” he said.

Other venues under consideration are Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University and Soldier Field in Chicago.

Chicago is competing with Los Angeles for the United States finalist spot, which is to be announced in April.

The International Olympic Committee will not select the official host until 2009. Sandusky said he likes their chances since Los Angeles had the Olympics twice, most recently in 1984, while Chicago has yet to host the games.

Coughlin said since the decision is a couple of years away, they will have to take a wait-and-see approach, but they are willing to help Chicago with the bid.

“We’re at the point where they are asking if we will be able to help them host the Olympics,” Coughlin said. “And our answer is yes.”