Nov. 3, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- During his tour of the Michigan State football facilities in early October, UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez couldn’t help but think how far the Spartans have moved ahead – in terms of an on-campus facility – and how far the Badgers have fallen behind.
“The thing that struck me the most was how efficient it was for their student-athletes,’’ Alvarez said. “Everything was right there – meeting rooms, weight room, training table, practice fields.’’
Two years ago, the Spartans opened the 25,000 square-foot Skandalaris Football Center and also expanded and renovated the Duffy Daugherty Building, increasing the weight room from 9,000 to 16,500 square feet. The facilities are located across the street from Spartan Stadium.
It has become a trend.
Last year, Indiana unveiled the Student-Athlete Physical Development Center in the north end zone of Memorial Stadium. The 138,000 square foot facility is one of the largest strength and conditioning centers in the country. The weight room covers 25,000 square feet.
Alvarez was asked if people would be surprised to learn that Indiana, which has sported one winning football team in the last 15 seasons, has a better facility than Wisconsin?
“I think they’d be shocked,’’ Alvarez said. “Our people would be shocked to know that UW-Whitewater and La Crosse have state-built facilities that are probably better than ours.’’
Since 1989, the Badgers have done little to upgrade the McClain Facility, which houses an indoor practice field, locker rooms for players and coaches, the weight room, the training room, and the Fetzer Academic Center.
“When I got here in 1990 from Notre Dame, the weight room was about the size of what everybody else had,’’ said Alvarez, who was the head coach of the football program for 16 seasons. “Back then, I didn’t feel like we had an advantage or a disadvantage with the facilities.’’
But so much has changed since then.
And the UW football facilities have not.
“Consequently, we’ve fallen way behind,’’ Alvarez said.
Not that everyone hasn’t made the best of the situation.
“We’ve maximized every inch of square footage that we have,’’ Alvarez said. “Our people have done a great job of keeping it clean and freshly painted. We keep putting new carpet in. We’ve redesigned the locker room just so we can make more space for some chairs and couches.
“But things are getting old, they’re getting run-down. We try to keep it spruced up as well as we can, but you can only do so much. You can only put so many coats of paint on the same walls, whereas everyone else is building new and glitzy facilities.’’
Alvarez stressed that he’s not looking for glitzy.
“We’re not looking at building the Taj Mahal,’’ he said.
Instead, the plans are for something that is functional.
“We’re not trying to overdo it or overstate anything,’’ he added.
Moreover, it will not be limited to just football or athletics.
“We will team with two other units on campus,’’ Alvarez said. “University Hospitals will have a sports medicine clinic on one floor. And there will be a floor for use by the School of Engineering.’’
In sum, Alvarez said, “We’re trying to update and upgrade.’’
And there is urgency to do so, he pointed out.
“I saw it happen at Nebraska where they went some 20 years without doing anything about the facilities,’’ noted Alvarez, a former Cornhuskers linebacker and grad assistant coach. “The same thing happened at Oklahoma, where they were winning games and they took some things for granted and they didn’t upgrade their facilities when everyone else was. They fell behind, and the program slipped.
“I don’t want to sit back and let it happen here to the degree where, all of a sudden, you’re losing recruits and people are asking, ‘What the heck happened?’ I know Bret (Bielema, the UW football coach) has lost a couple of in-state kids this year. When he asked them why they were committing somewhere else, they talked about the facilities being better at the place that they chose.’’
It has become a trend.
Southern Cal just announced plans for a $70 million athletics building which will house locker rooms, offices, training rooms, an academic center and a 32,000-square foot weight room for the football team. Groundbreaking on the 110,000-square foot facility is scheduled for January, 2011.
“I am delighted that the president and University leaders share our vision about the necessity and value of this new building,’’ said USC athletics director Pat Haden. “The reality is we have outgrown Heritage Hall (present facilities) and we are badly undersized and overcrowded in there. This new building will provide our student-athletes every opportunity to succeed academically and athletically.’’
That was echoed by head football coach Lane Kiffin, who said, “The only negative that we’ve dealt with over the years was our facilities compared to other people. Now, we won’t have that.’’
The other USC – University of South Carolina – is in the midst of upgrading its facilities, too.
Such projects cost money.
“I always point out the increases in Super bowl ads,’’ said South Carolina athletics director Eric Hyman, whose master plan for facility improvement was kicked off three years ago.
“In 1967, a Super bowl ad was $25,000. In 2007, a Super bowl ad was $2.5 million. The price of everything – ice cream, gas, haircuts – increases and we must reflect that also.’’
Alvarez acknowledges those same realities: “We have to figure out a way to get things done, and stay up with our competition. We’ve fallen behind, and now we have to be pro-active.’’