Pitt's football resurgence in the late 1990s began when the Panthers' coaches were able to start selling a dream of new facilities and a new stadium to play in.
And then in 2000 new facilities became a reality and in 2001 so did Heinz Field, and the positive impact on the football program has been tangible in terms of on-field results.
Now, the athletic department is hoping the new state-of-the-art facilities at the Petersen Sports Complex on Pitt's upper campus will produce similar results for the five programs -- men's and women's soccer, softball, baseball and track and field -- which will utilize them.
"I don't know that any school in the country has gone through the facilities makeover we have in the past 10 years," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said. "I mean, when you think about it between what we did with football in terms of the South Side facility and Heinz Field, the Petersen Events Center for our basketball programs, the renovations in the Fitzgerald Field House to benefit our Olympic Sports -- now this, it is really exciting to see how far we've come and where we are headed.
"We now will have the facilities necessary to compete at the highest level in all of our sports and not just compete, but win championships."
The school has already broken ground for the Petersen Sports Complex -- which is expected to be ready by December 2010 and available for the soccer teams, baseball team and softball team by spring of 2011 -- on the 12.32-acre plot directly behind Trees Pool on the site of the Robinson Court housing projects near Oak Hill.
The first phase of the project will cost $29 million and when finished will include a new 900-seat baseball stadium, 600-seat softball stadium and 735-seat soccer stadium. Once that is finished, the next phase will begin on a new track and field facility at Trees field behind the OC Lot where the baseball and softball teams currently play.
There will be a brand new locker room complex at the site of the baseball/softball and soccer fields, which will house a concession stand as well as restrooms. All of the fields will have lighting for night games as well as a press box and the baseball and softball fields will also have dugouts as well as hitting and pitching areas.
The dimensions of the baseball field will be 330 feet from home plate to the fence down the lines, 375 feet to the power alleys and 405 feet to centerfield while the softball field will be 200 feet symmetrically around the outfield. The soccer field will be 76 yards wide by 120 yards long.
Pederson said all the fields will have FieldTurf, though the softball (with a skinned infield) and baseball fields will use the "Classic" version (Tropicana Field, Rogers Center, Metrodome) while the soccer field will use the FIFA-certified "Duraspine" version (Gillette Stadium, Qwest Field).
"The thing that is exciting about that is that weather won't be nearly as much of a factor in terms of our student-athletes being able to practice and play games," Pederson said. "A lot of times when baseball and softball games are postponed or cancelled, it is due to field conditions.
"I think the key is, our coaches are already starting to reap some of the benefits in terms of recruiting from these facilities. Kids want to see what your commitment level is to winning and to their experience and that's why facilities are so important."
Although the facilities will be first-rate and certainly help the Panthers' smaller sports -- the flip side of the discussion is whether it is wise to spend $29 million on facilities in an economic climate where the university has cut some jobs back and frozen wages.
Pederson didn't blink when asked that question. He said the facilities will enhance the experience for student-athletes and the area where the track is being built will also be improved for the use of the school's extensive intramural programs.
"The most important thing is, it is our goal to fund this entirely through private donations," Pederson said. The Petersen Sports Complex is named after John and Gertrude Petersen, who gave the capital campaign a great boost about two weeks ago by donating what the university called a "generous and substantial" gift. John Petersen is a 1951 graduate of Pitt and the former CEO of the Erie Insurance Group.
The university is still planning to sell the naming rights of each individual field in the complex.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.