UConn to continue its building spree thanks to $8 million gift for soccer stadium

Markets Associated Press

UConn continues to fire shots in what has become an athletic arms race with other major universities, announcing Monday that it will move forward with plans to build a new soccer stadium, thanks to $8 million in donations from a former player.

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Athletic Director Warde Manuel said the school hopes to raise about $15 million for the new stadium, the latest in a string of athletic construction projects on campus.

UConn on Friday will dedicate its new $40 million basketball training center. The school, which opened an on-campus football training center in 2006, also has committed to building an on-campus hockey arena and is planning new on-campus facilities for baseball and softball.

"The facilities are a critical part of maintaining excellence," said UConn President Susan Herbst. "All these sports deserve proper facilities."

Tony Rizza, a Westport investment manager, announced plans to match up to $5 million in donations for the soccer stadium, which is to be built on the footprint of the existing 5,100-seat Morrone Stadium, and will retain the name. The soccer complex, which also includes the practice field adjacent to the stadium will be named the Rizza Family Soccer Complex.

Rizza, who played for Morrone and the Huskies from 1983 to 1986, revealed he also was the previously anonymous donor behind a separate gift of $3 million.

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UConn's men's soccer team has won three national championships. But Rizza said the facilities are now considered inferior to those at the University of Louisville, which went on a major athletic building spree at the turn of the century, and "We just can't have that."

Louisville's venues including Cardinal Park and the KFC Yum Center were cited by the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2012 as a major reason the Cardinals were invited to join that conference over other candidates, including UConn.

"Part of why you go to a school is the coach, and the other part is the facilities that you are playing in," said Rizza, whose gifts make him the single largest donor in the history of the athletic department. "Clearly ours were great, and they are not great so much anymore."

The school is planning to hire an architect, and final plans for the soccer facility are due at the end of the year. Manuel said next fall would be an optimistic guess for the start of construction.

He said he's hoping Rizza's donation can serve as a catalyst for fundraising for baseball and softball stadiums. Those also would be built on the footprint of the existing fields, he said, but no timetable will be established until more money can be raised.

The school committed to building a new on-campus hockey arena as part of the agreement for the men's program to become the 12th member of Hockey East, the nation's premier hockey conference.

The school plans to build most of the new facilities with private money, though Manuel said some state funds may be needed for the hockey arena.

"That's also a much larger financial commitment, to build that facility on campus," he said. "So, we have to look at the exact plan. We'd like to do it, if we could, privately, but we'll have to see what can be done there."