Big 12 schools have planned $1.6B in improvements

Updated: August 26, 2006, 3:42 PM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A brick facade and a glassed-in entryway welcome visitors to the Missouri football offices. And that's just the outside.

Inside, there will soon be a new NFL-style locker room, computer lab, team room and weight room, all part of a $16 million expansion of the Tigers' training complex.

Coaches, players and others already part of the program will love the upgrade. But they're not the only ones it's aimed at.

"When you bring kids in [on a recruiting visit], you want to wow them," coach Gary Pinkel said. "When they walk in the weight room, they say, 'Wow!' If they're not wowed, you shouldn't build it. If they walk in my office, if they don't say, 'Wow,' that isn't good enough."

There's a reason for that high standard: Pinkel has competition. All around the Big 12, schools are building bigger, better facilities, with an eye on impressing recruits.

Since the Big 12 was formed in 1996, $1.6 billion has been committed to facilities projects. That's $160 million per year, or $133 million per school.

The projects are widespread:

Texas, which just added a giant video board nicknamed Godzillatron, plans to spend $150 million to renovate and expand Royal-Memorial Stadium to add about 10,000 more seats plus new offices. Kansas football is getting a new $31 million complex that will move it out of shared facilities with other sports.

Texas Tech is exploring the possibility of adding a facade to the east side of the stadium and putting in between 8,000 and 10,000 new seats to put capacity over 60,000.

Oklahoma is performing continuing upgrades on Memorial Stadium for $12 million, and just spent $293,300 to install a new turf practice field.

Kansas State is finishing a $5.8 million upgrade of its sports complex and installing two new video boards and two new message boards worth $1.7 million total. The school also put in new FieldTurf in its indoor football facility worth $800,000.

And that's just football.

Iowa State's $135 million facilities master plan includes bowling in the south end zone of Jack Trice Stadium, but it also calls for a major renovation of the basketball arena, upgrades to the student recreation center and the construction of an athletics complex to hold tennis, track, softball and baseball.

Oklahoma State's massive athletic village plan includes $30 million apiece for a new baseball stadium and a new soccer/track complex, plus another $15 million for new tennis facilities. That's on top of the $120 million being spent to close the west end zone at Boone Pickens Stadium and build new football facilities, plus $50 million for an indoor practice complex.

The building boom would have happened because many schools had older facilities, said Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg. But that's only part of the explanation.

"Some of it has happened because we've had success under the Big 12 umbrella growing revenue, and that gives schools an opportunity to do more of that kind of stuff," Weiberg said. "Some of it has happened because the enhanced competitive environment makes people feel like they need to engage in more of that to enhance the prospective revenue."

Weiberg points out that university budgets are on the rise, and athletics make up only about 4 or 5 percent of spending at Big 12 schools.

At Oklahoma State, the facilities push was brought on by a $165 million gift from oilman Boone Pickens, and the university hopes that sum will reach $300 million through investment. By comparison, consider that the university spent only $11 million on facilities from 1967 until 2000, when an expanded Gallagher-Iba Arena opened for basketball and wrestling.

"A long period of neglect is what we faced," Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder said. "And trying to be competitive in the Big 12 conference and nationally is our motivation. It was going to take something out of the ordinary or unusual to go from where we currently were ... to where we would like to be. Boone Pickens' generosity has allowed us to address that disparity."

Holder said he understands new facilities are no guarantee of success.

"It gives you a chance," he said. "It really gets you to the starting line with a chance to step up and maybe compete for the best athletes, have a chance to attract and retain the best coaches. If you have those two things ... then you have a chance to be competitive."

Holder acknowledges that facilities are a superficial element to recruiting. He calls them "probably the least important factor" in an athlete's success when compared to the quality of their coaches, teammates, training and academic support.

But a first impression may be the only one a school gets to win over a recruit.

"It's hard to get to know somebody on a weekend visit," Holder said. "You get to know the coach that's recruiting you, but the other people that are going to impact your life, it's hard to really appreciate what a difference they're going to make on a weekend visit.

"What they leave with after that 48 hours usually is an overall impression, and that usually has to do with facilities."

Still, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione believes schools aren't blatantly out to one-up each other. For him, the focus is on what's best for his university.

"I've never subscribed to the idea of an arms race connotation because we aren't looking at things in a way of just having something bigger and better than somebody else," Castiglione said. "If we double the size because we think it's the right thing to do, that's what we're going to do."

That leaves a delicate balance for schools -- figuring out where money can best be spent to improve a team while providing some of that "wow" factor to convince recruits there's enough commitment and potential to play with the best schools in the conference, and the nation.

"Some of us will never have what Texas and Oklahoma and probably Nebraska have facility-wise," Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said. "But we've shown that we can be successful. We've shown it, and if we can I think there's obviously some other teams in our league that can do it."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press