Friday, July 24, 2015 | 2 a.m.
It’s not the near-campus stadium UNLV officials hope to eventually build for its football team, but recent changes to Sam Boyd Stadium will bring a different feel to Rebel home games this fall.
A $1.2 million renovation this summer replaced field turf that hadn’t been changed out in more than a decade and was severely worn from usage. Additionally, two rows totaling 860 seats were removed from the east and west sidelines to widen the field and drop Sam Boyd’s capacity to 35,500.
Sam Boyd is about 8 miles east of the UNLV campus — a location some fans, especially students, say is difficult to commute to on game days.
“This is a great stadium. There is not a bad seat in the house,” UNLV Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said. “If only we could take Sam Boyd Stadium and (put) it next to the Thomas & Mack Center, Cox Pavilion and the Mendenhall Center.”
New turf was installed for the first time since 2003, including shock pads under the turf for player safety. The turf installation cost $800,000; the entire project was funded by the stadium, which is separate from UNLV athletics.
The distance from the sideline to wall went from 27.5 feet to 33.5 feet, making multi-use Sam Boyd regulation size to host USA Sevens Rugby and FIFA soccer matches. A gray guard rail surrounds the sidelines; the dugout used to store to stadium's rollout turf through the late 1990s is gone.
The turf currently does not have markings or lines, giving first-year football coach Tony Sanchez a blank slate to contribute to the design. He combined with Kunzer-Murphy and longtime team publicist Mark Wallington for the look, which will be made public next month and likely will have a Las Vegas theme. They also have three new sets of uniforms with a Las Vegas design — the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign is on the helmet, for instance.
“When you see the new look for this field, this will be a great place to play college football,” Kunzer-Murphy said.
The Rebels will get good use out of the stadium.
Sanchez will hold three or four practices next month at Sam Boyd in preparation for the Sept. 12 home opener against UCLA. Additionally, UNLV Football Foundation events are planned there.
“This is our home field,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “We love how (Sanchez) has embraced that.”
This might not be the lone upgrade. The locker rooms, which have had little improvements since the stadium opened in the 1970s, and the open area behind the north endzone are also in need of improvements, a project that could cost up to $25 million for changes to both, Kunzer-Murphy said. Changes to the locker rooms alone would be $2 million to $5 million.
Last summer, Sam Boyd received a $400,000 LED video scoreboard.
“You are always improving,” Kunzer-Murphy said. “You never stay the same in this business.”
Improvements at Sam Boyd, of course, have to be balanced with efforts for a new stadium. The latest proposal calls for a stadium on a 42-acre site west of campus at Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane. An agreement between the UNLV Foundation and land manager Wells Fargo would give the university until Dec. 18 to purchase the $50 million land.
“The conversation of a new stadium stopped us from moving ahead quickly (at Sam Boyd),” Kunzer-Murphy said.