- Associated Press - Friday, October 8, 2010

LINCOLN, NEB. (AP) - Nebraska unveiled a $56 million Memorial Stadium expansion plan Friday that would boost capacity to about 90,000 people and keep it competitive with Big Ten crowds accustomed to massive facilities at Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan.

Athletic director Tom Osborne said the Big Ten considers Nebraska to be among the top teams in the revamped conference, which it joins next year. Memorial Stadium’s current capacity is 81,067, while stadiums at those other universities all seat more than 100,000.

“You don’t have to keep up with the Joneses all the time, but you at least have to be in the league,” Osborne said.

The proposed expansion, which will go before university regents next Friday, will add about 5,000 seats to the east end of the 87-year-old Memorial Stadium, including more than 30 luxury boxes with indoor and outdoor seating for 400 to 500. Between 2,000 and 2,200 seats would be in a new covered and heated section.

Osborne said the modest expansion should help Nebraska accommodate more fans while also preserving its sellout streak, which is the longest in college football and dates to 1962.

“It doesn’t make sense if we have 110,000 seats if 20,000 are empty,” he said.

Following a $226 million renovation, Michigan Stadium, the venerable Big House, this year seats 109,901 people, the most in college football.

Osborne said the Nebraska project would be paid for by about $25 million from the athletic reserve fund, $15 million in revenue bonds and $15 million generated by the advance sale of the luxury boxes, club seats and naming rights to a 40,000-square-foot research facility that’s included in the expansion.

The project would be done before the 2013 football season.

The university said the project would also add a three-story lobby on the east side of the stadium, a new ticket office, meeting space, safety upgrades and other amenities.

Earlier this year, Nebraska asked fans about an expansion project, and the support was overwhelming.

The last stadium expansion was in 2006. When Osborne started as an assistant coach in 1964, the stadium could only hold 44,829 people.

The athletic department also unveiled plans to spend $4.75 million on an indoor practice facility for the Cornhusker baseball and softball teams.

If the regents approve, the 22,000-square-foot practice facility will be built near Nebraska’s Haymarket Park field. University officials said the upgrade should improve the odds of Nebraska hosting regional competition in the NCAA baseball and softball tournaments.

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