Big Red Business: Is it time for a football facility facelift?
While Nebraska aspires to be at the top of the Big Ten conference in football, it is middle-of-the pack at best when it comes to shiny, eye-popping locker room and training facilities.
The Cornhuskers’ locker room in the 12-year-old Tom and Nancy Osborne Complex in the north stadium can’t accommodate the entire team, forcing some over to the auxiliary locker room in the adjacent Hawks Championship Center. It will only get worse as the walk-on roster expands.
The same with coaches’ offices. The number of coaches, aids and support staff keeps climbing, too, forcing some to the auxiliary space.
Quarters are also reportedly cramped when the entire squad gathers for a team meeting, and the weight room, while still one of the most impressive in college football, is not as large as some of its rivals, namely Iowa.
Is it time for Nebraska to upgrade the Osborne football facility?
The seven-story building, which opened in 2006 and includes stadium suites on top, has changed little since then. While there have been several upgrades to the equipment, technology, the lobby and locker room, the only major construction involved adding office space for football coaches. That project was completed in the summer of 2017, said Keith Mann, an athletic department spokesman.
Sources have told HuskerOnline that an announcement about a new football facility is forthcoming, although whether it involves replacing the Osborne Complex with a new building or expanding the current footprint could not be confirmed.
To gauge how Nebraska stacks up facilities-wise, HuskerOnline reviewed the football complexes -- housing locker rooms, strength and conditioning, meeting space, coaches offices and more -- for all 14 Big Ten schools. We also sampled a few other programs around the country, including Clemson and Oregon.
Looking around the conference, the question isn’t who recently has poured money into gigantic new football facilities or is the midst of doing so, but who hasn’t.
Other than Nebraska and Ohio State, the other 12 schools have been busy, or are at least in the blueprint stage.
In the conference’s west division, where Nebraska is stacked, its rivals have poured a lump sum of nearly $650 million into football facilities upgrades in recent years, though Northwestern’s and Minnesota’s projects were all-encompassing for all athletes.
Is this an arms race worth entering? Does it matter? Aren’t there more pressing uses for the money, especially with the university trying to fend off further budget cuts pushed by state legislators. And aren’t Nebraska’s football facilities for the time being “more than adequate”, in the words of athletic director Bill Moos?
Indeed, many fans would echo Moos’ thoughts.
But consider what a 17-or 18-year-old high school recruit is thinking when he tours the locker room, weight room, nutrition, life skills and other areas of the football complex or views the stunning photos on the Internet. Then, he compares them to the competition. That’s why several college football facilities interviewed for this story say it’s important to stay current. Fresh facilities are important eye candy for recruiting.
“You’re either in the game or not,”, said Paul Meyers, who spent about 20 years directing fundraising for the athletic department, including the Osborne Complex project and all its naming rights.
Football programs want their facilities to be appealing to kids looking for a place to take up residence for the next four or five years. And while those players may not sleep in the football complex, they certainly spend a great deal of time there between practice, lifting, eating meals, and relaxing.
Recruits also want to know what type of training facilities -- for athletics and academics -- are available to help them develop as a student-athlete, and help the team too.
Some of the new facilities are also designed to appeal to the hearts and minds of parents, things such as life skills, nutrition, and sports medicine being housed in the same building as the football basics.
The athletic department declined to comment Monday on whether an announcement about a new football facility is coming.
However, Moos addressed football facilities issues in general last Friday in an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star.
“You look at our football facilities -- offices, meeting rooms, locker rooms and all that -- they’re more than adequate,” he said. “Our weight room, indoor facility etc. But we’re heading toward adding more players to the roster, we’re competing against the top programs in the country because that’s where we want to get back to.
“We have to really look at what our competition has to offer and be humble enough to realize that we may need to go that direction in facilities. Not necessarily today or tomorrow but most probably, in my estimation, it’s going to be a necessity down the road.”
Remember the Schulte Field House?
Go back to 1969, the beginning of modern-day strength training at Nebraska and for that matter, all of college football. A few dumbbells and free weights for athletes to lift -- that’ how the Cornhuskers launched what became a world-renowned, cutting-edge strength and conditioning program.
Schulte Field House, completed in 1946, served as the home for football locker rooms and training operations for decades.
Then in 2004, the university signed off on a $50 million project to build the Osborne Complex. Schulte Field House beneath the north stands was in the location for the new facility, so it was torn down.
When the Osborne Complex opened in 2006 along with the Hawks indoor practice field, it featured a 17,500-square-foot weight room and a new locker room for football players. The visitors locker room was housed in the south stadium, in what had been Nebraska’s locker room.
Tim Cassidy remembers those days. When he joined the staff in 2004 as associate athletic director for football and a recruiting coordinator, he recalled being “shocked at the way the football facilities looked,” especially the locker room.
Sure Nebraska was only a few years removed from its last national championship, but the facilities were stale. That changed with the Osborne football complex.
Cassidy, who was instrumental in the planning of the project provided, said the goal was to create a “one-stop shop” for athletes so they could better manage their time and be a short distance from anywhere they needed in and around Memorial Stadium.
There was the spacious locker room and massive strength and conditioning area, and coaches offices were constructed so they could look out over the weight room. Academics, nutrition and other areas were right there, and the indoor practice facility was attached through a covered walkway. The complex is also home to the athletic department, information technology, and other departments.
To be clear, no one interviewed for this story said Nebraska’s football facilities are second-rate or are heading to a dumpster-pile. Nor is anyone saying that an additional 3,000 square feet of weight room space will bring a conference title.
But as the athletic department looks not only at the here-and-now, but also to the future, the football complex has some shortcomings that need addressing.
Start with the main locker room, which has 123 lockers Head coach Scott Frost has nearly 140 players on the roster, but he wants to expand to 150 plus by adding more walk-ons.
However, the main football locker room wasn’t designed to accommodate those numbers. Then head coach Bill Callahan came from the NFL and was accustomed to working with smaller rosters.
“You have to remember, that (roster) numbers were a concern not only at Nebraska but across the board,” Cassidy said. Athletic directors then and now have to balance participation in men’s and women’s sports to align with Title IX gender equity issues.
Moreover, he said, 150 players “is hard to manage, along with the costs that go with that.”
Nebraska is one of the few schools in the country with a football roster of more than 130 players. That means some players must use the auxiliary locker room, which has 37 lockers.
Not only does Nebraska want to build its football roster, but it may need more office and meeting space for an expanded coaching and support staff.
During his career in collegiate athletics, Cassidy has been deeply involved in the planning of not only the Osborne building but new facilities at Texas A&M and Arizona State. ASU’s new home, primarily for football, is the $57 million Student Athletic Facility.
Planning for that project included looking at the facilities of schools with top ten recruiting classes and then “taking the best of everything we could find,” Cassidy said. Among the ideas: the weight room with lots of windows to create an open feel, and cold therapy tanks to help players deal with oppressive heat.
Cassidy’s advice to Nebraska?
“You’ve got to know what the Jones’ are doing,” he said., “not only those in your conference but some of the people you’re recruiting against” around the country.
Times have changed, Cassidy said., and you ”need facilities for 21st century kids.”
Recruits aren’t necessarily sold on a school because of its winning tradition. And weather...well, that’s not going to change at Nebraska. “So other things matter, things you have control over such as facilities,” Cassidy said.
Bottom line: “You’ve got to continue to invest in the program,” Cassidy said.
Around the conference
Big Ten conference schools aren’t standing pat when it comes to state-of-the-art facilities for athletes. In the west division alone, there are some eye-popping projects for schools to rave about in front of recruits.
Here’s what Nebraska’s up against:
West division rivals
*Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald’s view from his new office inside the Walter Athletics Center? Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
That’s what a $270 million facility gets you, along with a new football team locker room, coaches offices, meeting rooms, a weight room, and a virtual reality training space where the quarterback can strap on headgear and simulate plays. Northwestern also added what they call a “walk through room,” whereby players can review plays from projectors beaming life-size images.
The Walter Athletics Center, dedicated last August, is the hub for Northwestern’s entire athletic department that counts more than 500 athletes in football and other sports.
Given the property, the proximity to Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago,, “you may not see another project quite like that ever again,” said Nate Appleman, a vice president for sports-recreation-entertainment at HOK, the Kansas City-based firm that helped design the project.
*Iowa. The $55 million Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center opened in 2015. The 110,000-square-foot building devotes about 20 percent of that space to the weight room, which is among the largest in the country at 23,000 square feet.
There’s also a player’s lounge, with pool tables and big screens. A team meeting room can be split down the middle, separating offense and defense. Video projection monitors face the leather seats.
And for inspiration, each Hawkeye named a consensus All-American has an original painting of themselves made and hung inside the team dining hall.
*Wisconsin. The Badgers are looking at a sports facilities face-lift, based on a 2017 master plan. The McLain Center, opened in 1988, was last renovated in 2013 to update practice fields, locker rooms, strength and conditioning and sports medicine.
*Minnesota. Welcome to the Athletes Village, a $166 million campus that opened in January. The three-building athletic complex includes a football practice field and performance center, locker rooms, weight and conditioning, and staff offices. A “center for excellence” features academic and nutrition support.
*Purdue. The Boilermaker’s football performance center opened in summer 2017 to the tune of $65 million. Located on John R. Wooden Drive, the three-level structure provides 112,000 square feet of space, including the locker room, team meeting rooms, weight training, position group meeting rooms, coaches and support staff offices, a hydrotherapy area, and nutrition.
Previously, football-related training areas were housed in multiple buildings.
*Illinois. Even the Illini are in this arms race. The school broke ground last December on a new, $79.2 million, football performance center behind the football stadium.
Expected to open in summer 2019, the 107,000-square-foot building will house locker rooms, coaches offices, meeting space and strength and conditioning space.
East division rivals
*Ohio State. The Woody Hayes Athletic Center was dedicated in 1987 and last renovated in 2007 with a $19.5 million face-lift. The facility features a 13,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center along with an 1,800-square-foot cardio fitness center on the second level.
*Penn State. Head football coach James Franklin has said that the school is “way behind” Big Ten foes and top-tier programs in football facilities. What’s contemplated is a Beaver Stadium face-lift along with the creation of an athletic district on campus.
In 2016, Penn State completed a $13.2 million renovation of the Lasch football building. The project included football locker rooms, training facilities, and a players lounge.
*Indiana. Opened this past summer in the north end zone of the football stadium, the 138,000-square foot W. Jay and Nancy Wilkinson Performance Center features a 25,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center for athletes in every sport -- one of the largest in the country. The facility, with its distinctive two towers, includes football seating, a team auditorium, and an underground walkway to football practice fields.
A recently opened second building houses the “Excellence Academy,” consisting of sports medicine, nutrition, leadership and life skills programs.
*Michigan. The Wolverines’ opened a new football performance center in 2017. The project included significant updates to the entire Oosterbahn building. A new weight room for football is expected to be completed in winter 2019 in the adjoining Schembechler building.
*Michigan State. The Skandalaris Football Center and Duffy Daugherty Football Building serve as the hub for Michigan State football. The 25,000 square-foot facility was completed in 2008. It was last updated in 2016, with improvements in sports medicine and the training performance center.
*Maryland. The athletic department embarked on a $155 million project -- much of it already raised -- for a makeover of Cole Field House. The first phase involved a $45 million indoor practice facility. The second phase, set to be completed next year, includes new coaches offices, weight room, locker rooms and a research and orthopedic clinic.
*Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights haven’t built a new athletic facility in two decades, but that is changing. The school is in the midst of a $100 million fundraising that will “help bring Rutgers venues, including locker rooms and practice facilities, up to Big Ten quality,” according to its website.
A jaw-dropping structure
Scott Frost had a sparkling new recruiting tool at his fingertips during his days at the University of Oregon.
In 2013, the Ducks opened a massive $68 million, six-floor structure that the university said “brought all non-game day operations under one roof.”
Thank Oregon alum and Nike founder Phil Knight for opening his wallet once again.
When the complex opened, the Portland Business Journal described it as a “jaw-dropping, future gazing structure.”
Indeed. The 130,000-plus square-foot facility features a two-story weight room, three football practice fields, a dining hall, offense and defense “strategy rooms,” and a video editing center. Then there are the amenities: a 170-seat theater, a barber shop and cafeteria, a lot of flat screen televisions, and a health center.
Oregon also opened in 2016 the Marcus Mariota sports performance center that includes sports medicine and sports performance areas.
Not quite as opulent, though another one of Frost’s old stomping grounds, is Central Florida’s Wayne Densch Sports Center. The 44,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2003, houses weight training, football locker rooms, and coaches offices. The weight room, at more than 11,000 square feet, is located in the center of the building.
An indoor football practice facility is behind the performance center.
If you were a football coach and looking to tour some of the best college football locker room and training facilities around the country, then Clemson would be a must-see.
The $55 million, 140,000 -square-foot Allen Reeves Football Complex opened in 2017, and was designed to support day-to-day activities of the football program. HOK, which helped design Nebraska’s north stadium expansion in 2006, was a co-designer on the Clemson project.
While all the basics are there, including a 23,000-square-foot weight room, check out the amenities that were designed to make the facility a “home away from home” for players and coaches, according to HOK’s Appleman.
Those frills include 1.5 acres of outdoor leisure and entertainment space, a bocce ball court, miniature golf, grills, a movie theater, a Wiffle ball field, barbershop, and a 30-foot-long stainless steel slide.
Clemson’s coaching staff wanted the stand-alone two-story building designed this way to fit with a “family oriented philosophy,” said Appleman. “While (the entertainment features) may be over the top, it’s a place for kids to hang out in a town where there’s not a lot to do,” Appleman said.
Finally, head on down to Tuscaloosa. Players on the reigning national champion practice, train and relax in the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility. The building has undergone two renovations since 2005 as home to the football program. Its strength and conditioning center is about 3,000 square feet smaller than Clemson’s.
Earlier this year, Alabama opened a $14 million sports and nutrition center that features 50-plus HD flat screens, and patio dining overlooking football practice fields.
If Nebraska moves forward on a football facilities project, it is going to require major funding from donors, with naming rights opportunities on every office door. And then some.
True, Nebraska can spend some of the nearly $55 million it receives annually from Big Ten revenue sharing, and it can dip into reserves, or raise money short-term in the financial markets (though the athletic department embraces a debt-free mantra).
Having to clear the buy-in from the Board of Regents and the Unicameral are issues, given the current state budget climate. So upgrading football bricks and mortar could be a sensitive topic.
Despite those challenges, Meyers believes the environment now surrounding the future of the football team represents a “perfect scenario” for building a new facility.
“There a new athletic director, new football coach, new administration..all working together,” he said. “All that says to me is that the timing is perfect.”
Steve Rosen covers the business of sports for HuskerOnline. Questions, comments, story ideas? Reach Steve at email@example.com.