Eugene- it’s not exactly a shocker that the amount of money available to the University of Oregon stemming from boosters and donations is in a league of its own, and one donor in particular has been keen on making sure his beloved alma matter pushes its way up the ranks of “it” schools to attend, particularly in the athletic department.
Earlier this week it was announced that with the abundant amount of funds pouring into Oregon, spearheaded by Nike founder Phil Knight’s $500 million, Hayward Field was going to become the latest institution within UO athletics to receive a significant facelift. The “finest Track and Field facility in the world” will grace the Oregon campus come 2020, and the monolith is already set to host the 2021 and 2022 Pac-12 Outdoor Track and Field championships.
With grandstands encompassing the entirety of the playing surface and a glass tower in the shape of an Olympic torch, it will most certainly help with Eugene’s mantra of “Track Town USA”.
Only thing is, the University continues to refer to this project as a “renovation” when in all realism, this is a full replacement. Unlike Autzen Stadium, which received a much-needed upgrade in 2002 yet was still able to preserve a full area of the original design, the Hayward Field any of us UO alums and fans knows, and the one that has graced the campus for more than 100 years, will be completely gone.
Initial plans to preserve the East grandstands were nixed after it failed to meet many of the modern specifications associated with sporting venues. The entire seating capacity will be brand new, as will the track and, in all likelihood, the field too. This literally leaves not one aspect of the original design behind, and while that isn’t an issue as far as functionality or revenue, it still feels a little harsh.
While not necessarily known all across the nation, students, alumni, and visitors alike are up to speed on the historic aspects of UO and the university has done a very good job maintaining them. The fishbowl dining area of Erb Memorial Student Union, seen in the film Animal House, remained unaltered structurally even after a major renovation to the building that added new food suppliers and an entire new wing. The North stands of Autzen were kept in their original state while adding monuments, walkways, and even waterfalls to the perimeter. And though the Ducks built an entirely new arena for basketball and volleyball, McArthur Court has been maintained beautifully inside. I myself was lucky enough to be on the court in February and there wasn’t even a hint of dust to be found on the floor or in the stands. Oregon might just as well have had a game there the day before.
Now, I’m not such a nostalgia junky that I fail to see the big picture here. The revenue this new Hayward will inevitably produce will end up far exceeding the money put into it. Hosting the Pac 12 championships as well as world games and most likely another Olympic trials will bring in all kinds of money, publicity, and athletes to the small northwest town. Phil himself summed it up well by referring to the new Hayward as “a magical venue that will remain the heart of the University of Oregon for generations to come”.
However, the generations that have already passed through campus will always remember the sight of “historic Hayward Field” on their way to and from classes, games, or workouts. The wrought iron gates opening up into the classic venue from Agate St gave you a sense of entering hallowed ground. I remember even being able to see track events from the deck of my apartment on 19th St during my days at UO. The memories of the leatherheads clashing with rival Oregon State, Steve Prefontaine dashing past the finish line with the competition at his heels or the various Olympic Trials that brought athletes from all over the country are difficult to put in perspective through murals and old footage. Hayward itself stood as a living monument to its own rich history. It will be difficult to accept that there will be nary a piece left of the venue that for so long was the heart and soul of Track Town USA.
Onward and upward I suppose. The University of Oregon has changed considerably not only in the eyes of locals but nationally and even across the world. Knight’s vision of a top-tier destination for athletes and fans alike continues its ascent.
In many ways, this is just another step.