Schools stockpiling athletics facilities

More than $1.39 billion has been spent on facilities in the Big Ten since 2000.

A porous economy hasn’t stopped one group from investing heavily in the future.


1.39 – Approximate billions of dollars spent on athletics facilities in the Big Ten since 2000.

When Iowa State announced plans for a proposed $8 million basketball practice facility last week, it became the latest major conference school to make an effort to up the ante on its competitors.

Iowa State head basketball coach Greg McDermott hailed the facility as a “huge recruiting tool” in a statement, but critics have said there’s been too much spending on such facilities and that they’re outweighing academic missions at schools.

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the facilities arms race is a real and sometimes troubling issue that administrators everywhere face.

“What we have is always never enough and that is a concern,” he said.

Much of the pressure to upgrade things like locker rooms and training areas stems from the demands and expectations of recruits, Maturi said.

From flat-screen TVs to players’ lounges, prospects are always looking to be impressed by eye candy at athletics facilities – which can potentially be a problem.

“I think all of us are a little nervous about some of those things that seem to be a little bit extra,” he said.

Even though much of the money for facilities projects comes from fundraising efforts and sponsors, there’s always criticism about what impact those campaigns have on other fundraising goals at schools, Maturi said.

Since 2002, the University has opened a new tennis center, women’s ice hockey arena and a boathouse.

More than $1.39 billion worth of facilities construction, renovation or expansion projects have been completed or launched at Big Ten universities since 2000, according to a compilation of data from each school’s athletics Web site.

The University has undergone or completed about $315 million – or 22.6 percent of the conference’s total – of facility construction in that time period.

That number includes construction costs for TCF Bank Stadium, which is about halfway complete, according to stadium project coordinator Brian Swanson.

Although price tags have increased and buildings have become more elaborate, the issue isn’t a new one and is inherent in such a competitive environment, Doug Hartmann, sociology professor and Advisory Committee on Athletics chair man, said.

Hartmann said he teaches a course which partially addresses the issue and traces it back to its roots: the mere creation of intercollegiate athletics.

“They start to compete and the outcome of those competitions has a lot to do with fundraising, recruiting and schools’ reputations,” he said. “Then it’s not just an activity.”

Although larger schools like the University can be negatively impacted by a facilities push, it’s more common for small-conference schools to get squeezed.

John Fry, president of Franklin and Marshall , a mostly Division III-sport college in Pennsylvania , told the Chronicle of Higher Education last week that the arms race might be taking away from academic projects.

“You see a lot more spending on athletics, and you wonder if that’s the highest and best use of those dollars,” he said.

Hartmann said college athletics’ governing body ironically and unintentionally adds the fuel to the facilities fire through policy and rule creation.

When the NCAA creates policy concerning facilities, it allows other schools to see what its peers are doing and often leads to an envious pursuit of just-as-expensive facilities, he said.

NCAA officials did not return calls for the story.

Plans at the University

The athletics department has a long-term facilities updates plan that currently includes a new baseball facility at the top of its list, Maturi said.

Officials are drawing up plans for the stadium, which he said can be classified as a need.

“I think at our (current) baseball stadium, no one’s going to accuse us of being in the arms race,” Maturi said.

Future plans also include a possible wrestling practice facility, an indoor golf training building and a gymnastics practice area.