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Diggin’ it: Grand Valley State celebrates unusual expansion

By Gary Brown

View the construction photo gallery and video montage.

The United States expanded by going west. Grand Valley State expanded by going south.

It was more practical and less expensive than going north.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, the Lakers will christen their larger and more luxurious Lubbers Stadium – made more luxurious by adding amenities and made larger by digging out the field instead of adding to the stands – at the home football opener against Notre Dame (Ohio) in front of a crowd likely to exceed even the new capacity of 10,400.

The unusual renovation was necessary because of a problem every athletics director would love to have. For the last five years, Laker football has attracted more than 11,000 fans per game but has offered only 8,500 seats to accommodate them. Lubbers Stadium is a horseshoe design that has grass berms for overflow seating (usually students), but that still meant a lot of people were standing.

Too many to satisfy Tim Selgo.

“Our No. 1 priority was to increase seating,” the Grand Valley State AD said of the current phase in the school’s master plan. Designed with the future in mind, Lubbers Stadium could grow to accommodate 20,000 if necessary.

While doing so by burrowing may have taken some people by surprise, it wasn’t necessarily a groundbreaking approach in college football. Michigan State and Ohio State are among schools to have dug their way bigger, and Washington is doing so this year. But it was a logical move for a Division II school wanting to replace its outdoor track distressed by the wear and tear of being in the football stadium.

Having just added women’s lacrosse, the Lakers used that new facility to house the new track as well.

“We thought if we were going to devote resources for a track, let’s get it out of the football stadium,” Selgo said. “With that decision reached, we felt the best bang for our buck would be to lower the field and add more seating closer to the field.”

Digging down kept the bucks down, too. “Generally, going up is more expensive because you need more structure,” Selgo said. “We added 2,000 seats with four rows around the lower bowl, and all of them are closer to the field.

“We’ve taken a great game environment in Division II and made it even better.”

That’s probably bad news for opponents who already find it tough to win at Lubbers. The Lakers are 154-33-1 since it opened in 1973, and they sported a 30-game winning streak there from 2005-08.

That’s when the crowds began overflowing, too.

“We’ve always had great student support,” Selgo said. “At about the time our student enrollment was growing in the early 2000s, we capitalized on that by having some success, and now it’s tradition for our students to come to our games.”

Now all the Laker zealots will have more – and better – places to sit.

“It enhances our existing seating because the sight lines are looking down a little more instead of looking out,” Selgo said. “So not only did we add four rows of seats for those people who like to be close to the field, but we made the experience even better for those sitting a little higher.”


Who is this Lubbers fellow?

Lubbers Stadium was dedicated in the fall of 1979 and named in honor of the former Grand Valley State President Arend D. Lubbers, who presided at the university from 1969 to 2001. Lubbers was key in raising more than $700,000 toward building the stadium.

Lubbers also was a key figure in the NCAA Division II governance structure. He chaired the Division II Presidents Council right after the NCAA federated its governance structure in 1997. Lubbers led the Council through its formative years in 1998 through 2001. He also served on the NCAA Executive Committee, the Division II Administrative Committee, the Division II Strategic Planning Project Team and the Division II Budget and Finance Committee.

In 2008, the Division II Conference Commissioners Association recognized Lubbers with its distinguished Award of Merit for contributions to the division.

Lubbers is a native of Holland, Mich., and a graduate of Hope College, where his father, Erwin Lubbers, served as president. He received his master’s degree in history from Rutgers University in 1956, and taught at Wittenberg College before returning to Rutgers in 1958 to pursue his doctorate. 

Grand Valley State will recognize Lubbers once again on Sept. 8 during the opening of its newly renovated stadium.