Athletic director Pat Chun predicted Tuesday that the ill-fated and highly criticized $6 million stadium naming-rights deal with the GEO Group will someday be looked upon as “a small bump in the road” for Florida Atlantic University.
Chun also said FAU has no leads on a new sponsor for the $70 million stadium.
Chun, wrapping up his first year with the Owls, spoke during a wide-ranging news conference in which he also envisioned that football coach Carl Pelini is in it for the long haul; explained that the football team’s field cannot be named for program founder Howard Schnellenberger without a backer paying seven figures toward the stadium debt; and said many athletic fields need improvement.
Chun added that by the fall, he hopes to announce the creation of a bowl game at FAU. Although details are to be worked out, he expects the bowl to have a tie-in to Conference USA, which FAU officially joins July 1.
Chun thought FAU had solved the issue of stadium naming rights in February when it was announced that the GEO Group, a Boca Raton-based firm that runs prisons, was giving the school $6 million to rename the facility GEO Stadium. The GEO group’s record of treatment toward prisoners sparked a wave of protests and negative publicity. University president Mary Jane Saunders, a staunch proponent of the deal, resigned in May and the deal was scrapped.
“I told our staff, ‘In in the long history of FAU, this’ll be a small bump in the road and we’ve got to make sure that we learn our lessons from this and make it the best thing that ever happened to us,’ ” Chun said. “It was unfortunate that we lost the gift, but we’ve got to learn lessons from it.”
Chun said “time will tell” what lessons there are to be learned.
“The gift was vetted, any way you cut it,” he said. “It’s not healthy for me to dwell on the losses, so I have not.”
He added, “The university should never be in an awkward light.”
FAU’s football team was 3-9 last season, Pelini’s first. Although Pelini arrived after serving as defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Chun can envision him not simply making FAU a steppingstone toward another job.
“Carl wants to build something at FAU,” Chun said. “There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. He is settled into this community. His daughter’s going to school here (FAU) in the fall. He is part of FAU. He wants so see this thing through. … I salute him for that. You don’t want a guy who has one eye on this job and an eye on what’s going on in the industry.”
Chun said he met with an FAU student who is just the latest to want to name the football field in Schnellenberger’s honor, but Chun explained the financial roadblocks.
“The good thing for us is there’s a statue of Howard in the stadium and even if you go to Wikipedia, they call it ‘The House That Howard Built,’ ” Chun said. “So the good thing is the university did its due diligence and has honored Howard in a very appropriate way in the stadium. You can never do enough for a legend like him.”