In 1869, the first college football game was played between Rutgers University and the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton. Taking place in New Brunswick, the players took the field with no helmets or padding, in button-up shirts and trousers, and in front of only 100 people, attempting to kick the ball into the other team’s goal. You see, this first game of football was very different than the football games we watch our favorite colleges and universities play today, and just like how uniforms and rules have grown and changed, so have the venues in which these games are played. The days of dirt fields and standing space have evolved to multi-million-dollar stadiums and fans who hold season tickets close to their hearts, never missing a game.
As with many facilities across the U.S., the updated stadiums and venues that we use today may be more modern than the dirt fields but still require care and upkeep, with the majority of venues being buried by ever-increasing deferred maintenance they cannot dig themselves out from. The combination of decreasing student enrollment, escalating costs, and transition toward sustainable design and operations to preserve brand credibility has pushed higher education institutions to rethink how they respond to this poly-crisis to meet changing needs of the communities they serve.
So how can U.S. universities and colleges leverage sports to overcome to these challenges and reap the benefits of a changing society around them?
Greater Infrastructure, Greater Experiences, Greater Change
“Sports have the opportunity to influence behavior change within their fan population thanks in part to fan identification… through enacting sustainable actions within facilities and traditions, prioritizing environmental responsibility, and making impact reduction a part of their mission, sport organizations encourage fans to respond in kind.”
This quote from the Green Sports Alliance in their Collegiate Zero Waste Playbook highlights the influence that fans can have thanks to the actions and standards shown by their favorite teams. For many fans, the connection they have to their teams is part of their everyday lives and directly impacts many of the choices that they might make, showing the influence that collegiate teams can hold. But with this type of influential power, colleges and universities have the responsibility to establish behaviors and experiences that positively influence their fans.
When fans see the standards set by their teams and schools, the sense of community and interest in showing support directly affects the broader school communities and establishes a public showing of support. At universities such as Colorado University at Boulder, fans, students and staff have an extensive history of coming together to not only meet standards but create and grow sustainability and resiliency programs. In 2005, the university started to prioritize reaching certain sustainability goals through a variety of programs and updates to its stadium and athletic facilities, including the expansion of the CU-Boulder Recreation Center, a zero-energy facility, and the addition of weather stations to monitor weather patterns to optimize resource efficiency. From this, the school has seen increased savings, waste diversion, and support in their community, as well as a reported 41% of incoming students choosing to attend the university because of their priority on sustainability.
Similarly, when the University of Florida decided to build the first LEED-Platinum athletic facility in the country, they created a legacy that their students and fans work hard to continue. As part of their infrastructure building and changes, students stepped up to aid with design, and eventually, the student government expanded their influence, learning the broader student body’s needs for their facilities and impacting the final designs to make sure that the facilities were designed for students, by students. By setting their standard of infrastructure planning and care, and prioritizing students’ interests, the university has created a community that feels heard and respected, and that wants to continue supporting their school.
From the examples above, we see that when collegiate facilities choose to participate in infrastructure changes that promote resiliency and sustainability, they greatly impact their communities and attract students who share these values and goals. At Viridis, we look for clients who want to have this level of impact and collaboration with their students, faculty and communities and are striving to create facilities that are not just designed for players, but fans as well. By dismantling financial roadblocks and providing bespoke infrastructure solutions designed to the specific wants and needs of the community, Viridis allows colleges and universities to accelerate and exceed their goals and continue to create greater experiences and impacts.