SSU athletic facilities in holding pattern

  • 9/13/2006: B1: Ryan Hall, above right, takes a water break after soccer practice at Sonoma State University on Tuesday, the second straight day when temperatures surpassed 90 degrees in most of Sonoma County.

    PC: Ryan Hall cools himself off after a men's soccer practice for red-shirts at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, CA, on Tuesday, September 12, 2006. (The Press Democrat/ Christopher Chung)

At the northeast corner of the Sonoma State campus sits the Donald & Maureen Green Music Center, the in-progress jewel of the university with its "Tanglewood-style" concert hall, recording facilities and restaurant.

The project, which appears headed for completion after a $12 million gift from philanthropists Joan and Sandy Weill, is not universally popular on campus. But it is generally perceived as a step forward for SSU, a cultural landmark that will raise the university's stature.

Drive maybe a quarter-mile south, though, across Copeland Creek on Redwood Drive, and you come to the other side of the tracks — Sonoma State's cluster of less-than-lustrous athletic facilities.

The Wolves' Den, the school's 1969 gymnasium, is in need of upgraded locker rooms and a mix of retractable plastic benches and theater-style seats to replace the current wooden bleachers. The baseball, softball and soccer fields really should have lights and all-weather artificial surfaces, not to mention new restrooms and public address systems. The aquatics center could use a new 50-meter pool, and the running track and south tennis courts need to be resurfaced.

Sonoma State is a highly regarded institution in many ways. But its track is so decrepit that it can't be used for meets, and a recent baseball double-header was held at Santa Rosa Junior College because the SSU field was unplayable after heavy rains.

In light of the Weills' generous donation and the Green Center's stability, the SSU athletic department could be forgiven for asking: Is it our turn now?

Erik Greeny, associate vice president for development at Sonoma State, acknowledges that a strong athletic program is an important part of the college experience for students.

"It enhances the brand. It enhances the region," Greeny said. "There's nothing like having a championship team on the road, playing a tournament in Florida or Hawaii. What better marketing tool is there than athletics?"

Unfortunately, there probably won't be money raining from the sky on the Sonoma State athletic program anytime soon. According to university officials, athletic funding was never on hold, at least not because of the Green Center. It's just another victim of bad economic times.

"I don't anticipate a huge breakthrough," SSU director of athletics Bill Fusco said. "The donors we had to the Green Center are a different type of donor than we might get in the athletic department."

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