The University of Oklahoma took a big step this week to get in touch with the college football Joneses Keeping Up Million.
It’s just the latest example of the new craze for intercollegiate sporting extravagance — building more than $100 million in facilities to house locker rooms, spas, recovery rooms and meditation areas, designed to house about 100 soccer players are required on a campus with 20,000 to 30,000 students.
Oklahoma sure needed the upgrade. After all, its current football facility — the Switzer Center, named after Oklahoma’s legendary coach Barry Switzer — is five years old. It was built in 2018 as part of a $160 million stadium expansion and renovation, but it really isn’t enough anymore. Perhaps one of the reasons the Sooners went 6-7 last year was that they had to dress in a five-year-old dressing room.
University of Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was quoted in the Tulsa world Describing the project, he says, “Sometimes the media portrays it as keeping up with the Joneses. I don’t think the quest to recruit the best and brightest is as competitive as it has ever been. And it’s a whole new landscape. So we need to provide a comprehensive approach that makes Oklahoma the most attractive definition for the best and brightest, and do what we do best.”
Oklahoma joins a fast-growing list of major universities that have decided that spending $100 million or more on lavish, high-tech soccer centers is a wise investment.
As is usual with most of these projects, the university points out that the costs are not covered by general university funds, but by private donations or funds from the sports department. That may be true in some cases, but the assumption of the recurring costs for the operation and staff of the facilities is usually not borne by private funds. It becomes an obligation of the athletics department, often with an ongoing subsidy from the university.
The University of Miami recently announced it would build a new Football Operations Center for Hurricane football players at an estimated cost of $100 million. The 172,000-square-foot, seven-story building will feature the sorts of amenities that every collegiate athlete obviously needs to be successful these days, including a nutrition center, indoor-outdoor dining room, hydrotherapy, a recreational spa with saltwater float tanks, and Red light therapy, a meditation room, a primary recruiting lounge and reception area, a 7,500-square-foot rooftop terrace, and a Name, Image & Likeness (NIL) suite. Finally, there will be a golf simulation room, the sine qua non for college football prep.
The University of Nebraska is putting the finishing touches on its $165 million Football Performance Center. It features a locker room three times the size of the current room. Whether that will help a team that won 4-8 in 2022 and fired their coach after three games remains to be seen, but the new 32,000-square-foot weight room could be just what the Huskers needed.
Florida State University broke ground on its new Dunlap Football Center last December, which is estimated to cost $100 million. It had to compete with the University of Florida, which completed its $85 million Heavener Football Training Center in 2022, complete with a lounge, hair salon, virtual reality room, game and golf center, resort-style pool, basketball courts, multi-purpose lawn and volleyball courts.
Overspending on intercollegiate athletics is as contagious as ever. And while we can expect the usual defenses of this spending — that it’s all private money, that athletics helps add value to the university as a whole, that winning teams encourage applications and enrollment — the fact remains that this level of spending reflects institutional priorities reflects that university leaders should have been very reluctant to embrace.
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