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No hiding the shame of stadium debacle
Posted: July 31st, 2013 @ 9:44pm
So, Leslie Dal Cin was asked Wednesday, what word would she use to describe the sad state of Richardson Stadium? What was it like to learn that engineers had condemned most of the stands at the home of the last two Golden Gaels teams - football and women's soccer - to win national intercollegiate championships?
"Inevitable," the athletics director at Queen's University said.
"I think we did our best," she explained at a news conference at the stadium, where new, portable bleachers were officially unveiled to the media.
"We did annual projects that were trying to keep it up but I think the inevitability of it is - we moved out bleachers that were put here in 1970. That's 40 years. We don't know how long they were actually at the old Richardson before they moved out here.
"It's time. She served us well but it's time."
No one would argue with Dal Cin that the time to replace Richardson Stadium has come. And a university that typically responds to crises with the speed of a receding glacier has, indeed, done well to get 26 sections of portable bleachers constructed at the stadium in time for the coming football season.
To say now, however, that it was inevitable that the stadium would one day find itself in such disrepair suggests someone should have had the foresight to do something to prevent it. Clearly, that was not the case.
At Wednesday's gathering, John Witjes, engineering and operations director of Physical Plant Services at Queen's, seemed puzzled by a question about how the stadium could have been allowed to deteriorate to the point where such a drastic step had to be taken as to condemn most of it, for safety reasons.
"I'm not so sure it's a drastic step," he said. "The way I would frame it is we made a pro-active decision in the interest of student and staff safety."
Pro-active used to mean doing things before they suddenly became necessary, not responding to a situation that appeared to catch everyone by surprise. Proactive is putting the turkey in the oven first thing Christmas morning, not pulling it out of the freezer at noon when people start getting hungry.
You can't really blame those in authority for trying to put their best spin on the situation. On Wednesday, for instance, one and all were touting the benefits of the "field-level" bleachers being installed on what used to pass for a running track.
Maybe, as hoped, it will create an energetic buzz, maybe it will create interactive opportunities for fans - let's ask the next official who has to make a close call against the home team at the back of the end zone how that's working out - but really, the best seats in the house, as the project manager professed yesterday?
Let's see. If there's a goal-line stand at one end of the field, people perched on the top row of bleachers, about seven feet off the ground at the other end of the field, will be about 140 yards away (110 yards in the field, 20 yards for the end zone, about 10 more yards to the back of the bleachers). To put that in perspective, trying to make out what's happening in the crucial play will be like sitting on the shoulders of a tall person on the far corner of Princess and Bagot streets and trying to see what the person is doing at the main door of the post office.
Put another way, when you have the prime vantage point to watch the parade or some other outdoor spectacle, does the euphemism say you have a seat at the 50-yard line, or six rows back in the end zone?
We want to give the benefit of the doubt, really we do, but can we?
If you've renewed your season tickets for football this year, you navigated a new, web-based ticketing system. You can order online, pay online, even get your tickets that way - in fact, you can still pay in person, but they can't actually give you your tickets, they have to email them to you, to be printed at your own expense. (At Western, you can actually order on the phone and they'll mail real tickets to you, but does anyone at Queen's really want to admit that Western does anything better, especially anything to do with football?)
The new Queen's system is very sophisticated, and no doubt was implemented after thorough study and consideration. It's difficult not to wonder, though, if whatever time and money was devoted to adopting this new-fangled ticketing system wouldn't have been better spent planning for the immediate future of the stadium itself. Surely introducing such a neoteric system for selling tickets to a facility of dubious structural integrity is rather like turbocharging a donkey cart whose wheels are about to fall off.
Let us understand that the red faces here do not belong to the football team, or even the athletics department. It's a gaffe of the first order for which the university has to answer. That's because even though football might not be everybody's cup of tea - and a male-only sport that makes no apologies for its physical element and whose origins lie among 19th century ruffians may not be de rigeur in every social circle - at Queen's it's still the thing. Nothing the university does brings so many students, so many alumni and so many townspeople together in a positive environment as football games. Nothing. So for the university - on whoever's desk this file got ignored, and believe me the wagons have been resolutely circled on that question - to allow the venue for these singularly inclusive events to go to pot is unquestionably ineptitude of the first order. And, don't forget, it will be on display for all to see this autumn at not one, but two Homecomings.
Queen's needn't wait that long for the repercussions to be felt, however. Its essence is already familiar throughout the province as unscrupulous recruiters, with athletes torn between their school and Queen's, are telling aspiring players to insist on seeing the stadium when they visit Kingston. The implication, of course, is that when they see what a dilapidated dump it's become, they'll go running away as fast as they can. It's hard to love a university that would do this to its football team.
The only two football programs in Ontario that haven't either built new stadiums or refurbished old ones in the last 10 or so years are Queen's and York. As my colleague - and fellow Queen's alumnus - Neate Sager so cleverly put it last spring, when it comes to university football, nobody ever wants to be in a sentence that ends with "- and York."
In respect of its facility, though, that's exactly where Queen's finds itself. Maybe fans will embrace end-zone seats. Maybe alumni won't laugh and point when they see the top of the alumni side stands crudely fenced off, a constant reminder of the neglect that untold coats of paint could never hide. Maybe the team will play so well this year nobody will notice. Maybe the patrons in the newly licensed stands will consume enough to forget.
In the meantime, the cynics among us will snort the next time anyone tries to tell us about Queen's being a haven for the best and brightest. That might still apply in the classroom, but it doesn't seem to extend too many flights up the ivory tower.
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