Lewis: New stadium has Tulane talking about championships _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Tulane turf at Yulman Stadium

Who said this?

“Our expectation is to win championships.”

A. Vince Lombardi

B. Nick Saban

C. Tom Benson

D. The chairman of the Tulane Board of Trustees’ Athletic Committee.

Answer: D.

Yes, D.

But you’re forgiven if you got it wrong.

You haven’t heard that kind of attitude coming out of Ben Weiner Drive since, well, it’s hard to remember. Tulane hasn’t won a conference title in any men’s sport since baseball in 2005, the spring before Katrina, and before that sustained success in most sports was hard to come by.

But with the debut of Yulman Stadium now only a day away, Rich Schmidt, the person with the above title who spoke the above words, isn’t being giddy from the fresh paint being applied on as workmen get things ready for Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech when he declares the Wave no longer plans to be among the downtrodden of college sports.

There’s something in the air that makes it seem feasible.

The first on-campus football game in 40 years has created an energy about not just football but all sports at Tulane that has surprised even the stadium’s ardent backers.

Yulman, official capacity 30,000, is sold out. StubHub has seats going for as much as $150. $150! At Green Wave games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, that could get you an entire section.

Certainly the decision to put the stadium on campus, albeit wedged into tight confines, was the right one.

Taking over and virtually replacing Tad Gormley or building on The Fly at Audubon Park or a few miles away on Claiborne near the Jefferson Parish line or even toughing it out in the Superdome wouldn’t have generated this early result, particularly among the long-apathetic student body.

Keeping them coming back, or even in the stands Saturday if things aren’t going well or if the elements are too much for them and the others not in the suites, is another matter.

But for now, everything is rosy and all things seem possible.

“What you’re seeing Saturday is the culmination of 10 years of progress that was made a little later because of Katrina,” said Schmidt, a 1966 graduate who has been on the board since 1999. “The storm nearly put us out of business — and I mean the whole school, not just athletics.

“But we made the decision to either get in Division I all the way or get out. We intend to compete and to win, but in a manner that is consistent with the university we represent.”

There’s always that caveat applied to Tulane. But there’s nothing wrong with it.

If sports are truly the front porch of a university, then they should present an accurate picture of the school’s athletic attitude.

Tulane isn’t positioning itself as a latter-day Miami, which rose from middling to low stature to become a football powerhouse.

And it isn’t plotting to follow the path of former conference mate Louisville, which is playing its first season in the ACC. There isn’t the widespread community support necessary for that, and with the hold the Saints have on the loyalties of most loyal fans, that won’t change.

Getting into a Power Five conference isn’t a realistic scenario.

LSU isn’t coming to Yulman, either.

That’s why the stadium size is adequate, at least for now. This is what most programs, especially private schools outside the Power Five, draw.

It’s the gameday amenities inside, and outside the stadium for that matter, that count.

“Our attitude is that if there’s something that needs one staffer for games, we’re going to a have 1½,” Schmidt said.

Ultimately, though, winning counts above all else.

That’s what made the Wave’s double-overtime loss to Tulsa in last week’s opener so painful. In a season when the team is expected to have to scrap for bowl eligibility, that was one that shouldn’t have gotten away.

That’s just one game though. Tulane is in it for the long haul, thanks to the board assurance of providing the resources to at least be competitive on the conference level. New school president Michael Fitts is apparently on board as well.

“This is not a lukewarm sports attitude on the part of the board,” said Jerry Greenbaum, Schmidt’s fellow athletics committee member. “This is a full commitment.”

The commitment includes facilities — Yulman, of course, the adjacent Hertz Center where the basketball and volleyball teams practice, continued touching up Devlin Arena and, coming next, a “Tulane Village” on that same Claiborne Avenue property to accommodate the tennis and track programs displaced by the football stadium.

A refurbishing of the 30-year-old Wilson Center is in the works, but not, at least within then next three to five years, the indoor practice facility football coach Curtis Johnson has talked about.

The feeling is that the stadium will help produce the revenue to make that possible and that for now the program’s strong ties with the Saints makes using their facility a viable alternative.

There’s also a commitment to coaches salaries, academic support and other staffing needs that in the past the school either wouldn’t or couldn’t come up with.

“I’m glad we’ve got people behind us as we try to build this program,” Johnson said. “Those guys know what we need and they know it makes an extreme amount of difference.

“Take a look at what the other schools in our conference have, and you can see what need to keep bringing in the players compete. I’m confident we’re going to get that.”

And that’s something else you haven’t heard emanating out of Tulane in a long time either.