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Bobbled Bubble? Campus reacts to confirmation of dome


Courtesy Rick Mello. Note: This is a mockup of the inflatable bubble by Rice Athletics, but not necessarily representative of the size or location of the actual bubble. 

By Madison Buzzard     5/17/19 4:07pm

Rice athletics’ decision to construct a three million dollar indoor recreation facility encompassing the Beer Bike track has sparked discussion among members of the Rice community on the decision making process and future usage.

According to Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard, input in the decision process for the dome arose from members of the Rice Board of Trustees, administration and athletics department as part of the Vision for Victory, a five-year strategic plan.

“The broader university has a strategic plan — the V2C2 — and then each of the different schools are tasked with coming up with their own strategic plan,” Karlgaard said. “So I think there is a question about, ‘Should the general student body be involved in each of those strategic plans? If you are an English major, should you have input in the engineering strategic plan? If you are a non student-athlete, should you have input into the athletics strategic plan?’

I don’t know what the right answer is to that, but I can tell you from our planning process that we did involve the feedback of student-athletes but we did not involve the general student in our strategic plan.”

On April 26, the Rice Student Association passed two resolutions to express opposition to construction of the dome. According to working group member Sophie D’Amico (Duncan ‘19), promises made to the working group by Rice athletics and FE&P have been reneged.

“I was promised a lot of things that aren’t happening, such as permanent fencing a safe distance out from the track,” D’Amico said. “I was also promised the dome would be deflated all of second semester but now it seems like the dome will be deflated for three weeks at most. Rice [University] Cycling and Triathlon asked for a full repaving of the track if the dome were to be built and I’m not even sure they’re doing that.”

Student Association President Grace Wickerson said the general student body should have input as the dome project moves forward.

“We as the Student Association were never opposed to the dome itself,” Wickerson, a Brown College senior, said. “Rather, we were at odds with a process that largely didn’t consider student needs or how the dome might impact key events like Beer Bike until just recently. Student safety — both the safety of our [student-athletes] and bikers — was of the utmost priority. I have hope that over the next year we’ll continue to engage and make this new structure a benefit to all parties on campus.”

In 2002, the University of Texas at Austin built a dome for its football team. Other schools with indoor football facilities include the University of Cincinnati, Harvard University and the University of Minnesota. But Rice intends to use the facility to support multiple sports teams, intramural sports competitions and campus-wide events including Beer Bike and convocation, according to Karlgaard. 

“We were really sort of in between a rock and a hard place with how we thought about this,” Karlgaard said. “I started testing [the idea of an air-supported structure] with our President and our administration and select members of the [Board of] Trustees and found that in fact there was an appetite for us to [build a dome] if we could raise all the money privately. Once we came to that conclusion, we started thinking, ‘How can we make this facility one that can be used by as many varsity sports as possible?’ Then we were thinking down into club and recreation and intramural sports and then across campus for campus events. We were thinking, ‘Is there really a way we can make [the dome] a campus asset as opposed to just a football project?’”

Purveyance of the dome will enhance the student-athlete experience at Rice, according to Karlgaard. Last season, during inclement weather, football travelled twenty minutes each way to practice in the Houston Texans’ bubble. According to Rice sophomore quarterback Wiley Green, when heat arises, practices and conditioning drills will be more thorough inside the dome.

“Last year was my first season at Rice and there were numerous times when the weather issues caused us to change or shorten practices,” Green, a Baker College sophomore, said. “Even when we went to the Texans’ bubble, we had to cut practice back because of the time to drive to their facility and back. The NCAA only allows us so many hours each week to practice, so having our own facility allows us to get in our full practice time.”

Junior wide receiver Aaron Cephus said Rice suffered a disadvantage without the dome.

“An indoor option when the weather is a problem is absolutely necessary,” Cephus, a Lovett College junior, said. “We only have so much practice time available, and all that time needs to be on the field. We can’t be using part of it traveling off back and forth to a place off campus or waiting out a storm in the [Brian] Patterson [Sports Performance] Center.”

Junior swimmer Hannah Sumbera said Rice’s football team deserves priority use of the dome. 

“Honestly, everyone complains about our football team, but if you look at their funding and resources, they have about a third of the funding of other big Division I football programs,” Sumbera, a Sid Richardson College junior, said. “[Building the dome] saves money from renting out NRG Stadium for football practices, saves money from travel expenses to NRG and it’s a safety precaution for the athletic teams that train on outdoor fields.”

Will Rice College junior Julia Coco, who competes in powderpuff, said she hopes powderpuff teams receive access to the dome via a signup process when the field by Wiess becomes unusable.

“When our athletes aren’t using it I think the dome should essentially be another [intramural] field,” Coco said. “I also think that the dome will especially be important to keeping [powderpuff] games on schedule even when it rains and I hope that the athletic department will be a lot more responsive about letting us use the dome than they have been with the stadium.”

According to Karlgaard, club rugby will receive access to the dome. Rugby team member Jacob Koelsch said his team would benefit from an indoor facility, which is why the club donated to the dome’s construction.

“Last fall semester I remember a one to two month stretch where every other practice got cancelled because of rain,” Koelsch, a Will Rice sophomore, said. “We played a total of four games and had just as many if not more cancelled also because of rain. So those are issues that I think will be readily fixed by the rugby team’s usage of the dome.”

According to Matthew Weatherman (Will Rice ‘18), the dome must be taken down at least two weeks prior to Beer Bike to ensure the safety of bikers.

“I and others have had issues with people trying to cross the bike track while we are biking at speeds in excess of 25 mph which barely gives us enough time to react with an open view,” Weatherman said. “The dome has the potential to create blind corners that would prevent the bikers from seeing pedestrians going to and from the dome. If the entrances and exits to the dome are placed intelligently and crosswalks are designated, this issue can be mitigated, but never totally eliminated.”

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that the athletics strategic plan is called the Vision for Victory.

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