The construction boom around the Atlantic Coast Conference is showing no signs of slowing down.
In the seemingly never-ending facility arms race in big-time college football, some schools hope player-friendly project will give them an edge and help them keep up with their ACC peers — and other programs around the country.
“The world of intercollegiate athletics, especially in the Southeast, is extraordinarily competitive,” Florida State President John Thrasher said. “You’ve seen what Alabama has done, Clemson has done, Florida does. We know that we need to stay competitive. Not better necessarily, not more, but competitive so that our student-athletes can have the same opportunities that the ones in the past have had and certainly hopefully ones in the future will have.”
Earlier in the decade, the building boom centered on indoor practice facilities. By the end of this month, every ACC team will have one — all but two of them were built since 2011 — putting all 14 conference schools on relatively even footing in that regard.
But with big money continuing to pour into the schools from boosters and from the ACC league office — thanks to its television deal with ESPN — there is no shortage of ways for schools to spend it. The ACC distributed an average of $26.6 million to each full-time member in 2016-17, according to its most recent tax documents, and that number figures to only increase once the league’s ESPN-backed TV network launches in 2019.
Despite that, four of the ACC’s eight public schools — Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech — showed budget deficits, each higher than $3 million, according to a study of schools’ revenue and expense reports from the 2017 fiscal year published over the summer by USA Today. According to the study, the deficits at those four schools turn into surpluses when subsidies — which include student fees, direct and indirect institutional support and state money allocated to the athletic departments — are counted as revenue.
Thrasher’s comments came as Florida State kicked off a $100 million multisport fundraising campaign , with $60 million of that for a new football operations building. Louisville spent $63 million to improve Cardinal Stadium and also renovated its training facility to add meeting rooms, pools and an auditorium and more than doubled the size of its weight room.
Syracuse is remodeling its meeting, locker and weight rooms, and is spending $118 million to upgrade the nearly 40-year-old Carrier Dome with a new roof and scoreboard, and an air conditioning system, starting in 2020.
“We want to be competitive and we want to be able to resource all of our sports appropriately so that they can have competitive success,” Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack said.
But when it comes to facilities in the ACC, Clemson has set the standard.
The Tigers opened a $55 million team headquarters two years ago that has amusement park amenities, including a miniature golf course, a slide, basketball court and a nap room — yes, a nap room. With the team pursuing its fourth straight ACC title and College Football Playoff berth, they feel the investment is paying off.
“There’s no doubt it makes a statement that football and athletics is very important at Clemson. That you’re going to have every resource,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “It’s like the sign ‘Best is the Standard.’ We’re not just going to ask you for your best, we’re going to give you the best resources that we can give you. And I think it makes a very loud statement to recruits and their families.”
Other schools take a more practical approach to facilities. That can be a challenge at broad-based programs like North Carolina, which has 28 varsity sports.
“Obviously, you’re concerned about the costs and the infrastructure associated of keeping all of them (facilities) up to date,” UNC AD Bubba Cunningham said. “It’s not something that I’m real keen on because I think you need to have good facilities to be successful. But you don’t want to have it be over the top.”
Duke coach David Cutcliffe echoed that feeling, comparing the facilities at other schools to “Dave & Buster’s” and saying he feels awkward when he visits some of them. He described the modest recent improvements to the Blue Devils’ operations building — improving the weight room, creating more meeting space — as “serviceable.”
“I’ve seen all of that stuff, and I guess it’s important, but you’d have to really get philosophical as to why that would be important. … Where is it going?” he asked, referring to the arms race in facilities. “We should be investing in student-athletes. We should be investing in the experience, not creating ‘Moneyball,’ so to speak.”
As he spoke, Cutcliffe stood in Duke’s 7-year-old, $13 million indoor facility that he said “wasn’t for looks, you know?
“This was for work,” he said.
And now, the rest of the ACC’s schools have some long-awaited work space of their own.
Miami and Boston College opened their new indoor practice facilities earlier this year. Cunningham says he expects the Tar Heels to begin using theirs by the end of October as part of a wide-spanning $115 million project that also includes outdoor practice fields and new facilities for several nonrevenue sports.
At BC, they’re not exactly clamoring for an entertainment complex like Clemson’s, at least not yet. They’re just happy to have a permanent roof over their heads.
For years, the school would inflate its Bubble over the Alumni Stadium playing field from late November until March so the Eagles could practice in inclement weather. But coach Steve Addazio says it was unusable on exceptionally windy or snowy days.
That’s not a concern anymore. They opened a $53 million fieldhouse over the summer.
“Every week, you have no idea, we just played the weather game” with the Bubble, Addazio said. “We’re done with all that now, and thank God.”
By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer