Utah football: Olympics proposal calls for Rice-Eccles expansion
College football • Rice-Eccles project partof possible Olympic bid.
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Utah athletic director Chris Hill continues to downplay any plans for renovating Rice-Eccles Stadium, though a recent report says a stadium expansion will be completed by 2022, as part of a possible bid for the 2022 Olympics.

The report, which was presented to Utah president David Pershing by a 12-member committee of school officials last month, notes that Rice-Eccles would be expanded by approximately 11,000 seats at a cost of $68 million by 2022.

The university received $8 million from the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic committee to help fund the last expansion, which increased seating capacity from 32,500 to 45,017 in 1998.

The total construction bill for that project was $50 million.

In April, Hill kicked off the athletic department's most ambitious fundraising effort to date with its "Campaign for Utah Athletics," which has a goal of raising $150 million by 2016-17.

Hill said if Utah received seed money, it could speed up plans to renovate the stadium. But he maintains he wants athletic funds to be used to upgrade other facilities before funding any stadium changes.

There are plans to fund a new basketball practice facility and six new outdoor tennis courts, and renovate Utah's softball complex and swimming pool.

"It's still not on the front burner for me," Hill said of any plans to revamp the stadium. "Eventually we have looked at expanding by eight or nine thousand, but that is in the very, very preliminary stages."

Under the Olympics proposal, Rice-Eccles' capacity would be expanded to 56,000 by tearing out the existing south end zone seats and enclosing that end of the stadium.

The report also says that a preliminary study is being done on how to renovate the Jon M. Huntsman Center, which is more than four decades old. Areas identified for improvement include widening the arena's concourses and adding premium seating.

The Utes have averaged more than capacity for football the past two seasons. The school recently announced it won't make season tickets available to the general public for the 2012 season due to a 98 percent renewal rate, which led to a sellout of the 32,000 season tickets available.

Hill, though, wants to make sure the popularity of Utah football continues before any increase is made.

He also cited the advantage Utah has with its game-day atmosphere in the small stadium.

"Really, Oregon and Utah have the dynamic atmospheres on game day," he said. "We want to make sure we monitor and remain the right size. For us to expand, supply and demand is important for that atmosphere."

lwodraska@sltrib.com