Ole Miss Athletics Director Keith Carter outlined his mission going forward in a letter to fans recounting his first 100 days in his position on Monday.
In the letter, Carter said that part of the athletics department’s main focus will be on renovation and expansion with additions to the track and field and softball facilities as well as the Manning Center.
Carter also wrote that the athletics department would explore the potential of a “capital campaign that would center around major renovations to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.”
Ole Miss announced renovations to the track and field locker room in September, and Carter said the project is on track, ready to start construction this spring. The project was originally budgeted at $2 million but will end up costing about $3 million.
“It’s a $3 million project that we’re fundraising for, and we’ve got kind of a lead donor on that that’s going to help us with that,” Carter told The Daily Mississippian on Tuesday. “That one is imminent. We’re full speed ahead on that.”
The new building will feature 50 lockers for the men’s and women’s teams with a new recovery area and team lounge with updated laundry and storage facilities.
“We have almost 400 student athletes. Almost 100 of those are in track and field and cross country,” Carter said. “So it’s going to be, you know, a project that’s going to affect about 25% of our total student athlete population.”
Carter also mentioned other projects he would want to approach after the completion of the track and field renovation. The Ole Miss Softball Complex could see an expansion that would add space throughout the whole stadium from the seating to the press box.
“We did kind of a master plan on that probably a little over a year ago, and we’re going to go back and look at that,” Carter said. “We’re going to kind of freshen that up and see what the price tag looks like on that, but it would be a pretty extensive renovation.”
Development in athletics, however, will always circle back to football — even with a focus on other successful sports teams on campus. Division I programs are perpetually renovating and adding onto facilities to keep up with each other, especially in the SEC.
Facilities can be used as a major recruiting tool and a flashing of extra resources as evidenced by LSU’s $28 million football locker room renovation in 2019 featuring state-of-the-art sleeping pods and other technology. A look around the rest of the SEC landscape shows that updating amenities for student athletes is a necessity rather than a luxury.
Carter said Ole Miss will explore facility expansion soon with Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and the Manning Center.
“We did some major renovations to the Manning Center four or five years ago. And at that time, we were state of the art and first movers on a lot of things that were in those rooms and facilities,” he said. “Now, four or five years later, you look around and everybody’s either caught up or has moved ahead.”
In one of his first interviews after being named Ole Miss’s new chancellor, Glenn Boyce noted that he would work to move the student section back to the south endzone in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Carter said he has talked to chancellor boards and student groups about moving students to another section in the stadium, but he has ultimately decided to keep the students in the north endzone for the 2020 season.
Carter said that a move back to the south endzone would take the student section capacity from 10,000 to about 8,000 and expects student attendance to improve with the hiring of Lane Kiffin.
“We’re going to continue to try to enhance the student section, trying to find ways to make them feel more comfortable there and make sure that they want to not only come to the game but stay until the end and make sure that those seven Saturdays are an important aspect of their college experience each year,” Carter said.
Changes to Vaught-Hemingway could extend past the student section, as well. Major programs around the country are replacing general admission space in favor of premium seating and additional features like “social spaces” due to a decline in ticket sales.
The potential fundraising campaign for major renovations to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium mentioned in the letter could make Ole Miss the latest site of such renovations in the near future.