Commentary: In the Pac-12, the Utes are now a part of the arms race (4 items)
It’s become the catchphrase for describing the struggle of college football programs to become bigger and better than their counterparts.
Good luck finding out where “arms race” as a football term came from. CBS News’ "60 Minutes" used the term in documentation of the struggle found in the college game but didn’t actually explain its roots.
Despite its ambiguity, the phrase has been used to describe many particulars of the general competition between college football programs. That includes facilities.
With its own new complex, the University of Utah joins three other Pac-12 programs who have recently upgraded their resources in the continuous battle to attract recruits and assure they are efficiently trained and pampered after actually committing.
USC (John McKay Center), Oregon (Football Operations Center) and Arizona (Lowell-Stevens Football Facility) join Utah (Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center) as among those who have made the most recent renovations — all within the last year — in the western BCS conference. Rankings of the facilities follow an assessment of three common themes among them: player development resources, luxuries available and how they influence the program’s image.
(It should be said to begin that Oregon and USC’s complexes have been rated elsewhere as two of the 10 best in the NCAA.)
Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for UtahPolicy.com and hails the true-blooded Aggies from Utah. The co-founder of magazine Aggie BluePrint.com, he's been an intern for the Deseret News and other publications. firstname.lastname@example.org | @wilklogan
1 of 4. Player Development
USC now has a fortress in the McKay Center that beyond the exterior may be more like the Batcave. In playing on an underground field, athletes can feel like the Dark Knight. Its weight room for all 21 sports also is one of the largest in the country, and each football locker includes a video screen.
Again benefitting from the financial dedication of Nike co-founder and alum Phil Knight, Oregon’s imperial-looking edifice is a force with nine separate classrooms. The locker room is two stories, and the lockers themselves cost nearly $26,000 apiece.
And it still includes the Moshofsky Sports Center, which was the first indoor practice facility and training center when the conference still was the Pac-10.
Arizona’s glistening Lowell-Stevens construct features a cardio mezzanine that looks over the Santa Catalina Mountains and a weight room that the Arizona Daily Star’s Greg Hansen estimates is 10 times larger than the one in the McKale Center, the Wildcats’ old facility. Its FieldTurf surface is the type 14 NFL teams use, and its computer and medical center reportedly is top-notch.
Utah’s winding complex, the newest of the bunch by mere months, has a feature that bests the other three: the university, routinely recognized as offering one of the best medical schools in the nation, now offers a 17,000-square-foot sports medicine clinic that boasts hydrotherapy pools. Its 6,500-square-foot locker room also takes up a significant portion of the 120,000 square foot facility. The complex adjoins the 19,000-square-foot Alex Smith Strength and Conditioning Facility and is adjacent to the indoor practice field and a soon-to-be-built outdoor field with artificial turf — giving Utah’s program a complete complex as it embarks on year three in the Pac-12.
2 of 4. Luxuries
The McKay Center has a wall where recruits can check out Nike uniform combinations of any sport. Specifically to football, another wall pays homage to former greats, Rose Bowl wins and the 2004 Associated Press national title trophy. (The BCS and Heisman since stripped the honors from USC due to scandals surrounding former coach and player Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush, respectively.) Perhaps those locker room screens will be used more for leisure than studying opponents.
With two 50-foot long pools and hot tubs, Ducks will get to swim after practices — though the latter has raised eyebrows. Two movie theaters, leather easy chairs for every athlete and a team room with 55-inch flat screen TVs assure comfort at its finest within the three-feet-thick basalt walls of the operations center.
Wildcats are now enjoying a lounge, meeting rooms and dining hall aside from that computer and medical center. A 120-seat auditorium is like Oregon’s, too, except there is not two. A $5 million video board reportedly is the best of its kind in college football.
Utes can enjoy a Hall of Fame and a media studio with editing and production. A 3,600-square-foot players’ lounge is equipped with flat-screen TVs and game areas that may just distract players from an adjacent group study room.
3 of 4. Image
When it comes to athletics facilities, some things are about cosmetics — as important as player development and luxuries when it comes to impressing recruits, boosters and potential hires.
USC got mention of a palace because of an exterior that seems inspired by Spanish missions with a Victorian twist. The walls with uniform combinations and photos recognizing of its storied football tradition makes for great public relations. A giant video screen that initially appears to be a decorate wall accompanies the front staircase.
Oregon’s facility doesn’t need a double-decker sky bridge, but it sure looks cool — let alone the slack black exterior color on its windows and basalt walls. And paralleling Knight’s company, its signature brands are everywhere: the “O” is above the entrance and Ducks are seen throwing away a beaver on top of its trash cans.
Arizona’s branding strength is its appeal to boosters and alumni. Its sixth-story Sands Club will match any in the Pac-12, any in the SEC, any anywhere. It looks out on the stadium with climate-control temperature, relaxed lounge-style seating, numerous televisions, improved WiFi, mobile streaming support and a buffet, as well as beer and wine service.
Utah’s two-level observation deck overlooks the practice fields and the Salt Lake Valley. Inside, coaches have more than 47,000 square feet of office and meeting space at their disposal.
Utah is investing heavily into a variety of athletics complexes in its final step to fully fit into the Pac-12. Its football facility is just a chunk of the $64.2 million the Utes have invested in upgrades, which include $24 million for a basketball facility, $4.2 million for a new softball complex, $2.5 million for track upgrades and $1.5 million for an outdoor tennis facility.
4 of 4. Final rankings and numbers
Cost: $68 million
Square Feet: 130,000
Completed: June 2013
Upon Final Review: The Ducks’ new digs are as overwhelming as their Knight-financed uniforms, but differ in being completely impressive at every turn. And any school that features their rivals as literal trash merits at least a marginal bump in rankings. Pundits are right: Knight's "Death Star," as some are calling it, might be the best facility in the college football galaxy.
Cost: $70 million
Square Feet: 110,000
Completed: July 2012
Upon Final Review: An underground field and video screens for each locker resemble why USC is perceived as being ahead of the game on and off the field. Time will tell if Lane Kiffin matches with his on-field product.
Cost: $32 million
Square Feet: 120,000
Completed: July 2013
Upon Final Review: The university has done impressively well with its bantam budget — it's less than half what the other three had to work with. The Utes now can feel confident in being fully integrated into the Pac-12.
Cost: $72 million
Square Feet: 183,000
Completed: May 2013
Upon Final Review: With its Sands Club, UA’s facility really isn’t that far off of USC’s. Time will tell if Rich Rodriguez, like Kiffin, matches with his on-field product.