The University of Colorado athletics department has announced the construction of new add-on facilities next to Folsom Field. The department plans to begin construction on May 12, and the majority of the project is expected to be finished by the 2015 football season. Athletic director Rick George, hired this year, has created a comprehensive “sustainability” plan to enhance the student-athlete experience, and these facilities are a major element of the initiative.
We can’t debate whether the construction should happen, since it seems to be a done deal. But there are pros and cons to every significant change on campus, and CUI sports writer Andrew Haubner and editor Jordyn Siemens are here to hash them out.
Jordyn Siemens: I want to preface my points by saying that Colorado athletics are definitely on the rise. After winning four games last season, the football team has already shown significant improvement under Coach Mike MacIntyre. But despite this upward trend, I don’t think new facilities, overwhelmingly geared toward football, are necessary. Rick George’s plan proposes the construction of a 120,000 square foot indoor practice facility, complete with a 100-yard turf field and a 300m track. Improvements to the Dal Ward Athletics Center would include new football locker rooms, an equipment room and the addition of an extra 10,000 square feet to the academic support center for student-athletes. My concern lies in the fact that the athletics department wants to build a brand new building in order to create space for functions that, say, a renovated Balch Fieldhouse could possibly do for a lot less money. An indoor turf field would obviously not fit in there, but there is already a track. Another need George is trying to meet involves team meeting rooms, office space and academic support space.
Andrew Haubner: Love it or hate it, football and basketball are the undisputed kings of college athletics. They make most, if not all, of the money for most universities’ athletics departments. I mean, look at what our friends in the Pac-12 earn in football revenue. According to a Forbes study from 2013, five of the top 25 revenue-earning football teams came from the Pac-12. That money is important for not just football, but for other sports. For example, the track and field team doesn’t even have its own locker room, and they use the bathrooms inside Folsom Field. New facilities can give those less-recognized sports a nicer space to practice in. While these upgrades seem gaudy and unnecessary now, they are a small step into a larger world. Look around the country, and see what the top schools are doing with their athletic centers to attract recruits. CU’s athletics department is running a roughly $20 million deficit (not to mention the roughly $9.3 million in severance packages they’re paying to Mike Bohn, John Embree and Dan Hawkins), and you won’t earn money by doing more of the same.
Siemens: The project might help other student-athletes, but we have to consider the displacement of the Campus Recycling Center and Facilities Management Outdoor Services. CUSG Legislative Council discussed the field swap that will take place between the Recreation Center/intramural sports and the athletics department at its April 3 meeting. Rec representatives confirmed that those programs will set up temporary operational areas, specifically large tents during construction, and other permanent facilities will be built in the future to house them. Although the add-on to Folsom Field will be partially funded by private donations, these future Recycling and Outdoor Services buildings would most likely be funded by bonds, tax dollars or even tuition. Of course, we will see how the transition actually plays out, but the funding and welfare of those two campus services have to be considered.
Haubner: That’s definitely a fair point, but it’s another necessary evil to me. What kind of message does the current location of Campus Recycling send to recruits? “On your way to our athletics center for your official visit, we will first pass by our campus garbage facility.” There’s 197 acres of land on CU’s East Campus, and maybe half of that is currently being used. If you really need to move facilities to an open area, it could go there, or to the 308 acres that make up South Campus. As far as bonds are concerned, taking them to complete this project is totally dependent on how much money the athletics department is able to bring to the university in the coming years. With Rick George’s lofty ambitions (a Pac-12 championship by 2016?), there is enough ammunition to get people excited about athletics at CU again and enough to be bullish about the potential for revenue.
Siemens: Speaking of ambitions, part of Rick George’s presentation to the Board of Regents addressed the various revenue that would come from the proposed facility expansion. His selling points: more retail space in existing areas of Folsom Field, a new end zone club and box seating on Dal Ward’s first floor and renting out the future indoor facility to local, national and international sports teams and camps. In a statement made on Dec. 4, 2013, George said the project would “allow us to compete for and win championships and will allow us to become fiscally responsible.”
The thing is, the success of this project ultimately paying for itself hinges on traditional revenue streams as well. This means that ticket sales can’t drop, the football team needs to continue to improve and recruiting quality players must happen. More square footage, new locker rooms and a new weight room don’t magically place the football team atop the Pac-12 conference. Wins do. Attractive new buildings and state-of-the-art, CU-monogrammed dumbbells do not directly produce touchdowns; skilled and motivated players do.
Haubner: I truly do believe that CU-monogrammed dumbbells could win us more games. I completely agree with you that wins are the only thing that will turn this program around, but that is going to come with upgrades. I wasn’t an athlete or recruited to CU, but I remember touring through the old Rec Center and thinking how old and decrepit it looked. This visit came immediately after taking a virtual tour of the University of Oregon and having seen recreation centers from ACC/Big East level schools. Now, think of that experience and amplify it by about 10. That’s what these recruits feel. The arms race in college football is all about who can give their athletes as much as possible.
Ask Gene Sandoval, who designed Oregon’s newest football facility. He said he wanted to make it sleek and stealthy, to make the Ducks seem like a “mysterious, high-tech, intimidating program.” I don’t think anyone has that thought when they walk into Dal Ward. Division I football is viewed as the gateway to the NFL, and these schools want recruits to know it. There’s currently nothing intimidating about Dal Ward, and that’s not what you want recruits to feel. To get these players, who are not only motivated but equipped with elite skills, you have to make them believe that they are stepping up from what they are leaving. That’s where the wins and the fans will come from. There has to be a belief that they’ve left high school and are now watching and being a part of major conference Division I athletics.
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Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Jordyn Siemens and/or Staff Writer Andrew Haubner at Jordyn.firstname.lastname@example.org and Andrew.email@example.com, respectively.