Who knows whether Tom Jurich played the role of intentional scene-stealer Friday when, a week before Kentucky's opener in its "new" Commonwealth Stadium, the Louisville athletics director announced his own stadium expansion.
With a $55 million price tag, Louisville is adding suites, seats and other amenities to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, boosting capacity in the 17-year-old facility to approximately 65,000.
Gasp. That would make Papa John's the largest football stadium in the entire state, topping the reconfigured Commonwealth Stadium's capacity by about 4,000.
Never miss a local story.
This isn't to throw cold water on Louisville's grand plans. Members of the football faithful who won't admit the Cardinals are currently the state's better program exist in a state of serious denial. The market for an addition clearly exists.
But the days of judging a stadium — the days of judging a football program for that matter — solely by the number of fannies it can accommodate are over. Bigger no longer automatically means better. Smarter is better.
That was Mitch Barnhart's thinking. When it came time for UK's athletics director to tackle the problem of facility improvements, he rejected stadium expansion for fan experience with the seating capacity reduced from 67,000 to 61,000. Fewer seats, higher prices.
Kentucky isn't alone in that thinking. Arizona State is in the process of downsizing Sun Devil Stadium from 71,000 to 60,000 so it can add more premium revenue-generating seats. The trend isn't likely to stop there.
The days when schools could count on loyal fans showing up at a stadium just because they want to see a football game or support the alma mater are over. There's too much competition. And your comfy couch, the one in front of the 60-inch HD television that shows more good games than you could possibly watch, leads the pack.
Traveling across the Southeastern Conference over the last three decades, it's been hard not to notice the empty seats in the upper decks of even the league's most successful programs. Administrators will tell you their biggest problem has been attracting young people, especially their own students. Seat location may have something to do with that. So might a growing disconnect between the general student body and an increasingly isolated athlete population.
While raw numbers say league attendance is up over the last two years, newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri have much to do with that. And the league isn't about to take the numbers for granted, spending resources over the last two years to conduct research on how to improve fan engagement.
That emphasis on engagement is why fans, when they enter Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, will see more backs on bleacher seats, more room on the concourses, more concession stands, more suites, more specialty chairs, more accommodations for recruits. For the ones who will buy tickets, give them what they want.
In addition to its expansion, Louisville plans to do many of the same things with its Papa John's improvements. Jurich's announcement mentioned added extras for the fans and the program, including a weight and conditioning room that will double in size.
It will be the second major expansion since Papa John's opened in 1998. In 2010, Jurich bumped capacity to 55,000. Now in the ACC, Jurich thinks its time for another add-on, though he indicated this is likely Louisville's last expansion for awhile.
"I think capacity of 60,000 to 67,000 is the perfect size," he said.
If you want to fall into the "mine-is-bigger" trap, go right ahead. But these days that's not as important as addressing needs — the needs of your program and the needs of your paying customer. One can't thrive without the other.
Louisville will be doing that over the next two years just as Kentucky has done leading up to Saturday.
Bigger isn't better.
Smarter is better.