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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
The college football arms race spiraled out of control long ago. Flush with TV money, Power 5 schools have rushed to build 5-star training facilities that look more like Marriott hotels than places where football players sweat and train.
Oregon opened a $68 million football training center three years ago with ventilated lockers from Germany, Brazilian wood floors and a barber shop with imported Italian lounge chairs.
Central Florida is raising money for a new facility that includes a lazy river in which players would use inner tubes to slowly float through the building.
Clemson recently unveiled a new $55 million facility that, at 143,000 square feet, is more than half as big as the 22-story Norfolk Southern Tower.
The facility includes 1.5 acres of outdoor luxury: Five fire pits, a 9-hole miniature golf course, basketball court, Wiffle Ball diamond and 20-foot TV screen. Inside, there's a movie theater and laser tag course.
Power 5 schools will tell you this is just the price of remaining competitive, but the obscene waste of money on luxury features is one of the most troubling aspects of college sports.
In late 2014, the Washington Post determined that the Power 5 schools spent $772 million annually on athletic facilities. That's simply too much.(tncms-asset)f0291138-0a90-11e7-b14b-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
All of this was on my mind as Old Dominion associate athletic director Rick French recently gave me a tour of the school's new, expanded football training center.
I was blown away by how much bang ODU got for its buck. The 17,000-square-foot addition to the existing L.R. Hill Sports Complex is modest in size, and at $4.5 million, cost as well.
Yet, it gives the football program everything it needs for its players to get stronger and better.
Curiously, ODU has done little to promote the opening of its new facility. No press releases, no ribbon-cutting ceremony.
For whatever reason, ODU officials refused to answer routine questions I asked via email, such as the costs for outfitting the facility with furniture and when the football staff and players would move in (they did so this week, I learned via Twitter).
Regardless of the curious silence, this was the first significant upgrade to facilities the school has made since announcing in 2012 that the Monarchs were moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision. That makes it kind of a big deal.
More help is on the way, too. The General Assembly recently approved a $55 million makeover of Foreman Field that should be ready in 2019.
The expansion of the L.R. Hill Complex, built in 2008, has long been needed. Since ODU moved up, the complex has been bursting at the seams. The roster went from about 85 players to 115, and some guys have at times had to double up in lockers.
ODU also added to its staff, and interns are forced to work in makeshift desks in hallways. Assistant recruiting coordinator Jay Haeseker sits at the receptionist's desk in the football complex.
ODU's weight room was cramped. The new weight room is nearly twice as large, at 11,000 square feet, and has all of the latest gadgetry. Several new offices will open, which should get those interns out of the hallway.
There is also a partial second story to the weight room, called a "dynamic cardio area," where dozens of cardio workout machines and stair steppers will operate. There's also enough room to do indoor sprints.
Perhaps most important, the new facility will ease the burden of providing academic counseling to athletes. There is no place at the L.R. Hill Complex for players to receive academic tutoring, so they make the five-minute walk to the Jim Jarrett administrative building, which has been overcrowded since ODU began playing football.
ODU will turn its old football weight room into a meeting room/study hall area that will allow athletes in other sports some breathing room.
A lot of thought went into the colors and amenities. Blue and grey are everywhere. The coaches' locker room, which has space for 29 people to dress, includes an area large enough for the staff to meet. The walls are dry-erase, meaning you can sketch out plays on the wall, and there's a large-screen TV to view practice video.
There is a "shake room" adjacent to the weight room, where dozens of food processors will be lined up and churn out blended nutritional supplements .
"All of the latest advancements in sports science have been incorporated into this facility," French said.
There are no fire pits, no place for the Monarchs to play laser tag. But keeping costs in line was paramount. Conference USA provides hardly any TV money and Virginia state law discourages schools from using student fees to build new facilities.
With limited options, the school spent frugally, yet has provided coach Bobby Wilder with what he needs to keep the Monarchs competitive.
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