George Mason University is poised to complete the construction of a functional cricket field at its Fairfax campus by the end of this summer and a new ballpark by 2025.
During a virtual town hall meeting on Monday (Jan. 29), GMU staff and Sanjay Govil, owner of the Washington Freedom cricket team and a founding investor in Major League Cricket (MLC), outlined the project and listened to feedback from local stakeholders.
The project is still in the planning phase, but GMU’s governor-appointed Board of Visitors gave the university the green light last month to start talks with Washington Freedom about a ground lease for a multi-purpose ballpark.
“I think it’s a great win-win situation in terms of giving us what cricket has to offer and giving GMU what it needs for a state-of-the-art baseball facility,” Govil said during the town hall.
As part of a multi-year plan to redevelop and enhance its three main campuses in Fairfax, Manassas and Arlington, GMU proposed consolidating the athletic facilities on its 190-acre Fairfax West Campus, which is northwest of the Ox Road and Braddock Road intersection and currently houses the GMU Field House, several fields and courts.
In November 2022, Mason announced it would collaborate with MLC to study the possibility of a multi-purpose facility that could host international-level cricket games and the university’s baseball team.
Marvin Lewis, assistant vice president and athletics director at GMU, said the athletic facilities on the west campus are outdated and lack essential stadium features like a video board and lights that he noted are common at peer institutions.
“They have video boards, they have lights, and so it makes it even harder to recruit and compete at a high level without those amenities at our ballpark,” Lewis said.
Because GMU is a relatively young institution, the athletics department doesn’t have the “donor capacity” to raise the funds needed to upgrade its facilities, including the new multi-purpose stadium, he added.
“So, to make improvements, we have to think creatively and utilize partners in the community to help us meet our strategic objectives,” Lewis said.
As part of its agreement with GMU, Govil said Washington Freedom would fully fund the new stadium’s construction.
According to a presentation shared by the university, the proposed stadium will accommodate 7,000 to 10,000 spectators on a 15-acre site between Braddock Road and Campus Drive, adjacent to the parking lot.
The possibility of thousands of new spectators traveling to watch cricket matches and baseball games alarmed many town hall attendees, who expressed concerns about traffic and questioned the university’s approach.
“I live in the neighboring community,” one anonymous attendee wrote in the chat room for the virtual town hall. “I am most concerned with the increased traffic on University Drive (both vehicular and pedestrian traffic) since the apartment buildings across the street from the field house will be bringing many more people onto that road attempting to cross Ox to and from the main campus.”
“What will be done to keep everyone safe? Your superficial answer on traffic control did not address the daily problems already affecting the corner of University Dr and Ox Road,” they continued.
Jackie Ferree, GMU’s senior vice president of operations and business service, acknowledged the need for a more comprehensive traffic study in collaboration with Fairfax City, Fairfax County and Washington Freedom.
For now, Ferree said the university will increase shuttle services from remote parking areas, such as garages and transit stations, including with the city’s CUE Bus system.
According to Ferree, GMU also plans to partner with the city and county to enforce parking restrictions in nearby neighborhoods.
“In addition to the traffic enhancements, we will also activate ancillary events and activities around the game time…to really spread those times out and make sure that everybody’s not arriving and dispersing at the same time,” she said.
In the past decade, Northern Virginia, particularly Loudoun County, has experienced increased interest in watching and playing cricket, driven by growing immigrant communities from India, Pakistan and other countries where the British sport is popular.
However, dedicated cricket facilities remain rare. The Fairfax County Park Authority recently approved a grant to replace one of the region’s few large cricket pitches at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, and the county is looking for alternatives to replace a field near the Innovation Center Metro station targeted for housing.
GMU’s envisioned ballpark will serve the needs of both baseball and cricket-loving students, potentially attracting more enrollment, Lewis said.
“And then 40% of our graduate students are South Asian or Indian,” he said. “So, this will give us an opportunity to engage the current student body.”
While cricket games can sometimes last for days, Govil said MLC has shortened their duration to under four hours. He added that the sport is making a return to the Summer Olympics in 2028, which will be in Los Angeles.
“That means a lot of dollars will go into cricket in the United States because we love finishing in the top and everything we do,” Govil said. “So, that’s going to be another big thing for cricket and for the growth of cricket in the United States.”