Nebraska regent suggests putting fans' ashes under the football field. Her idea was dead on arrival

LINCOLN, Neb. — A University of Nebraska regent has proposed a way for lifelong Cornhusker fans to carry their support into the afterlife.

When Memorial Stadium undergoes its next renovation, Regent Barbara Weitz of Omaha suggested building a columbarium under the football field where departed fans can have their ashes inurned.

The idea might be dead on arrival. Her fellow regents laughed at the proposal at a recent meeting.

Weitz acknowledged she made her pitch light-heartedly but didn’t think any proposal should be dismissed out of hand with the university facing a $58 million budget shortfall. The price for niches, where cremation urns are stored, could vary depending on location, with a spot under the 50-yard line or end zone sold at a premium. Revenue, she said, would go to academics.

“One thing I know best about Nebraska is how much the football team and the volleyball team mean,” Weitz said. “We really do love our sports teams and follow them everywhere. It’s part of being a Nebraskan. So why wouldn’t being buried under the field be a great way to be close to your team forever? So it was kind of a combination of needing money, talking about ways to get it and then kind of trying to say let’s use our imaginations.”

Fans wishing to scatter a loved one’s ashes at their favorite team’s stadium is not unheard of and there are columbariums and other fan memorials at soccer, rugby and horse racing venues in Europe. There are cemeteries and columbariums at Notre Dame, Texas A&M and military academies that are unaffiliated with sports.

The passion of fans makes sports-themed columbariums a natural, said Colm Hannon, founder of an Ireland-based business that creates sports-themed fan memorials in Europe.

“I think many families realize the fan’s spiritual home was the stadium,” Hannon said in an email. “It was the place they had the best memories. It’s somewhere they would much rather go to remember their loved one than a graveyard that they spent little or no happy times in. If you want to be mourned, choose a graveyard. If you want to be celebrated, choose a sports ground.”

Real estate developer Whit Suber has been trying to get approval from University of South Carolina leaders to build an above-ground columbarium across the street from Williams-Brice Stadium, home of the football team. He came up with the idea in 2016, shortly after he bought land adjacent to a popular tailgating area. He called Weitz’s idea brilliant.

Suber, a 1992 South Carolina graduate, said if he builds his columbarium, a portion of the proceeds would go to the athletic department or a collective that pays Gamecocks athletes for endorsement work. He said he already has a permit.

“I’m just trying not to build it in opposition of the university, and we’re slowly breaking down that opposition,” Suber said.

Suber said some opponents have told him it would be inappropriate for people of different religions to have their ashes inurned in the same place. Others have told him it would hurt recruiting.

At Nebraska, Weitz’s proposal calls for construction of a columbarium to coincide with the replacement of the stadium playing surface, whenever that happens. A special entrance would allow fans to visit the niches of loved ones on game days.

Regent Paul Kenney of Kearney said he found Weitz’s proposal “somewhat entertaining” but impractical. He said her idea is “not in my top 1,000” for possible budget solutions.

Regent Jack Stark of Omaha, the Huskers’ team psychologist from 1989-2004, said over the years he has had people tell him a loved one had died and their dying wish was to have their ashes sprinkled on the field.

“I do think there would be a market for it,” Stark said, “because a lot of people follow the Huskers and love them.”


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