Build it and they will come. The value of athletic facilities in attracting top athletes
The Clemson University Tigers and the University of Oregon Ducks are two of the hottest teams in college football. Both schools lack the tradition or recruiting base of historical top NCAA football programs yet each school has competed in the National Championship over the past two seasons. The Tigers and Ducks have ascended to the top of college football by opening up their checkbooks to accommodate the needs of their student-athletes in the form of state-of-the-art facilities.
Clemson is putting the finishing touches on a $55 million complex for its football players with a miniature golf course, sand volleyball courts, laser tag, a movie theater, bowling lanes, a barber shop and other amenities.
Oregon’s facilities, which were funded by Uber-donor and Nike founder Phil Knight, were almost twice as expensive, roughly $95 million, and boast amenities for a more refined college student-athlete: the lockers are from Germany, the weight room floor is made from Brazilian wood, and the lounge chairs in the player’s barber shop are imported from Italy.
Incentives for student-athletes on par with amateur—and even pro–athletes
The facilities at the University of Florida and Florida State are superior to those offered by some NFL teams. In fact, those schools both have indoor practice facilities while in-state NFL team the Jacksonville Jaguars do not. Since student-athletes cannot be paid, state-of-the-art facilities have become the currency to incentivize them to sign with a certain school. In lieu of cold, hard cash, college have paid large sums of money to entertain and train student-athletes.https://www.athleticscholarships.net/college-in-state-student-athletes
Facilities do not guarantee success
While top athletic facilities can attract top athletes, it is not exactly build it and they will come. Clemson and Oregon have benefited from their facilities, but other schools have not been so fortunate.
Tennessee, a traditional football power, opened a $45 million training facility in 2013, but the Volunteers have not been able to compete for an SEC Championship quite yet.
Colorado continues to be one of the worst football teams in the Power-5 despite a recent $156 million project which included new locker rooms and an indoor practice facility.
Arms race to nowhere
Many administrators worry that the recent facilities arms race will get out of control, if it hasn’t already. Gerald Gurney, an advocate for an overhaul of commercialized college sports, believes that pandering to the whims of mercurial 18-year old athletes is never a good idea. He told the Washington Post.
“What’s probably next down the line is a floating river attraction… why don’t we have a roller coaster?”
In addition to the absurd, the push for bigger, better facilities has already created the briefest of world record holders. In only the last two years, three different programs, Texas, Texas A&M and Auburn, have all held the record for largest video board.
In the high-stakes game of college football recruiting, a school has to offer a lot more than a tuition-free education. The rise of mega-facilities has given the richest schools a competitive edge in recruiting and a major advantage on the field.