A little more than a decade and a half ago, after delivering one of a long series of commentaries about the necessity of building a facility that would allow University of Connecticut football to move up to the division 1-A level, for the sake of preserving the status of all UCONN athletics, the phone rang in my office off the newsroom.  The woman at the other end told me she’d been listening to me talk about the importance of building a football stadium suitable for division 1-A for some time, but she had no idea what I was talking about.  She didn’t understand what 1-A and 1-AA meant, why the future of one sport could be so important to all other sports and how failure to improve the status of one sport could lead to the devaluation of an entire athletic department.

The lady identified herself as Pam Sawyer, a state representative from Bolton.  She reasoned that, because she would eventually be one of the people who would be called on to vote on funding for such a facility, if it ever did get to the state legislature, she should have some working knowledge of the issue before casting a ballot.

I found it gratifying that a member of the legislature actually wanted to cast an informed vote of her own mind, but Pam took it a step further, telling me she knew many other members of the legislature didn’t know what I was talking about and asked if I’d be available to speak to a few groups of them to explain the situation as it pertained to UCONN.  I accepted the offer and as time went on more and more of the people who would be charged with voting on the funding for the stadium had an understanding of the impact it could have.  When the time came, the funding was approved.

I know some people feel the stadium hasn’t lived up to it’s advanced billing, it’s being underutilized and sellout crowds for football games have become a rarity, but the importance of the facility has never been greater than it is at this moment in time.  Without it UCONN football would have stayed at the 1-AA level and our state university would be nowhere on the radar as college athletics chart a new future.

It’s because that stadium, the most important part of the infrastructure of big time football, is in place, and was built with the foresight to easily expand it’s capacity, that UCONN is on the drawing board as the “Power 5” conferences make their final expansion plans.  Without it the trajectory of athletics at our state university would be going in the opposite direction of the trajectory of major college sports.

Yesterday Pam Sawyer announced she would not be seeking re-election to the legislature this fall, after 12 terms and more than a quarter of a century of public service.  When UCONN plays it’s first game at Rentschler Field as a new member of a “Power 5” conference you might think about sending her a thank you note.

A secure future for UCONN athletics may have begun with a phone call from Pam Sawyer, who had the courage and wisdom to just say, “I don’t know.”

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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