The game has changed. Now if you don’t have a multimillion-dollar, cutting-edge facility that offers everything you’d ever need to compete at the highest level and the kind of amenities that would cause even the most jaded recruit and his family to shake their heads in astonishment, you might just slip out of contention.
For example, in July the University of Southern California expects to open its brand new John McKay Center, a 110,000-square-foot edifice done up in Romanesque design with a price tag of about $70 million. What USC had before that might have passed for a high school setup if the high school in question were one of those Texas or Florida powerhouses, and it paled in comparison to what some of the more successful college programs boasted around the country.
Now coach Lane Kiffin said he has already detected a difference, even before the new place has opened.
“It does help in recruiting,” he said. “It helped with last year’s class, just them knowing that this process was being done, that they’d be in that building. It does have an impact on recruiting. It has already had an impact on (the last couple of) classes.”
Gaze across a college football map of the United States and you’ll see that the terrain has changed.
At Oklahoma State, boosters led by oilman T. Boone Pickens have provided the Cowboys with Boone Pickens Stadium, which houses a multi-faceted football headquarters that includes sports medicine center, media area, hall of fame area and lots more. At Florida, the Gators operate out of the four-year-old Heavener Football Complex, with interactive displays and plush lounge areas to complement all the usual gridiron bells and whistles.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
And just what constitutes state-of-the-art these days?
“Technology is absolutely huge with young people today. You can’t turn your back to it,” said Mack Butler, director of football operations at Oklahoma State. “We have all that capability in all of our meeting rooms.”
Butler said that flat screens in meeting rooms enable a coach to show anything from game films of opponents to motivational videos.
The Cowboys also put a premium on having everything in their football program fairly close together. Five player lounges with video games, locker room, strength training, training table and football offices are all in close proximity.
Then there are the shower heads.
“One of the things Boone Pickens felt was that there was a particular shower head he liked that he thought was far and away better than the others,” Butler said. “Each shower head is $700, and we have 60 of them.”
After the shower, the players can relax at their lockers, safe in the notion that they’re breathing ionized air through strategically positioned vents.
An artist's rendering of USC's new facility.
Chip Howard, who is senior associate athletic director for internal affairs at Florida, has been at the school for 23 years. He said the Gators’ 2008 upgrade was done not to stand out from the rest, but to compete.
“I think our philosophy going in was to have what we really needed, not what other people had,” Howard said. "A lot of times in collegiate athletics there is a sense of keeping up with the Joneses. We just had completely outgrown our old facilities.”
One of the key features in many of these new temples of football is a history lesson. Whether the information comes interactively through touch pads or on graphics emblazoned on walls, programs like to impress upon recruits their rich athletic heritages.
Florida has the Kornblau Foyer, which offers black granite squares honoring each consensus All-American of the past.
“It takes a look at the history and the success of the Florida program,” Howard said, “and recruits can interact with both audio and video. It helps sell recruits and tell our history.”
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