Friday, October 17, 2008
Facility Upgrades Changing College Baseball
RT Staff Note: As many families travel the country going to tournaments such as this weeks Arizona Senior Classic, it's more than likely that the players will play in outstanding facilities. The Peoria, AZ complex, the Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, the East Cobb facility in Georgia and many more are some of the most impressive facilities anywhere in the country. In other words, many players will play in nicer facilities in their youth than the colleges they are trying to get into. But, all of that is changing. There is a building boom of sorts and finally, colleges are heeding to the words that the blog and web site editors have been saying for years....Baseball CAN be a revenue generating sport. Baseball CAN draw big time fans in a sport that has always had big time numbers in all levels of the pros. Rounding Third has written no fewer than 10 articles over the past year ranting about the missed opportunities of today's colleges.
Yesterday, Kendall Rogers of Rivals.com College Baseball, wrote a fine article on a few programs that are not only making improvements, they are building palaces that are unlike anything this great collegiate sport has seen in its history. Will this cause a new building boom for collegiate baseball? There's no question that in a down economy the college game is a great value and more than adequate substitution for the pro game. It costs over $100 a game to take the family to see a pro team these days. For under $20, a family can not only enjoy a college game, but have enough money left for peanuts and Cracker Jacks too!
Plus, colleges seem to be immune to the bad economy. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, College enrollment hit a projected record level of 18.0 million in the fall 2007. College enrollment is expected to continue setting new records throughout the fall 2008 through fall 2016 period. That means more revenue for the schools and more fans for the sport of baseball too. Colleges are not hurting for money and students need a release in the spring, especially after mid-terms. And, what a better way to unwind, than to take in a highly competitive collegiate baseball game. We hope other college AD's are reading this and Kendalls article. Maybe it's time for your college to upgrade too.
Rivals.com College Baseball Editor
When actor Kevin Costner walked through the cornfields in the movie "Field of Dreams," a voice so famously proclaimed to him, "If you build it, he will come."
That quote is arguably the most famous quote from a baseball movie, and sure, it's just one line of words in a movie script. But for some college baseball coaches, the quote creates even more excitement around their program and gives them hope for the future. In their cases, the "he" in the quote refers to conference and national titles.
There was a time when college baseball wasn't a big deal. Many programs played in dilapidated stadiums, some programs weren't even fully funded, and the sport rarely was broadcast on national television.
For the most part, those days are long gone.
Salaries for college baseball coaches are increasing, many programs are receiving more funds, and perhaps for the first time ever, athletic directors around the country are figuring out that the sport can be profitable for the university.
The dynamic of the sport has changed drastically, and it's probably most evident in the facilities department, where many programs are building baseball versions of the Taj Mahal.
If you ask South Carolina and LSU, we're in the midst of college baseball's "Golden Age."
"I think athletic directors are starting to look at baseball as a revenue producer when you see all the college baseball facilities going up," said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, who will move into a new office in the spring. "Not only do you have an opportunity to pay your bills with baseball, but also people are realizing this is a great sport."
South Carolina athletics director Eric Hyman has joined the list of administrators that believes college baseball is in its greatest state. The Gamecocks are finishing construction this fall on a new stadium that will end up with a price tag around $35-40 million.
South Carolina's new stadium includes a new clubhouse, locker room, staff offices, hitting facility, classrooms and meeting rooms. Oh yeah, the facility -- which already is sold out of tickets for the 2009 season -- has a capacity of more than 8,000 spectators.
"When I took the South Carolina job a long time ago, I had dreams that we'd build a stadium like this," Tanner said. "With South Carolina's tradition of having great fans, I knew this would be a possibility at some point. It really is a dream."
Tanner's dream-turned-reality has far-reaching ramifications for college baseball, especially in power conferences such as the SEC, Big 12 and ACC, where other programs are trying to keep up.
Even perennial power LSU once was at a disadvantage because of inadequate facilities.
"When I was hired, I'm not sure I would've accepted the LSU job without knowing a new stadium was soon going up," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "When it comes to recruiting and getting better players, the stadium is like a French word termed "lagniappe", which means 'something a little extra.' "
As with South Carolina, LSU's stadium certainly will be one of the nation's best. The Tigers are spending around $40 million for the ballpark, and the capacity of the facility will be 8,800 with the ability to eventually get 10,000 on the stadium grounds.
From showing potential donors you care about making the baseball program a consistent winner to rolling out the red carpet for prospective players, LSU and South Carolina are just two of many schools changing the landscape of college baseball.
"When you have a premier facility, it shows prospective players that your university is serious about its commitment to the baseball program," Mainieri said. "If a school is going to make this kind of commitment to the baseball program, recruits view that as a school willing to give them the resources possible to succeed at the highest levels."
Tanner, like Mainieri, already is reaping the benefits of his new stadium. The program, Tanner said, is gaining more exposure on the recruiting front because of the stadium. He also suggested recruits view a new stadium as a program making more progress.
"When the beams and concrete started coming out of the ground this past summer, it really paid off with some of our prospective players," Tanner said. "When a young player walks into this building and says, 'Wow,' it makes you feel good."
While South Carolina and LSU lead the way in facilities upgrades this season, many more programs have taken advantage of the increased popularity of college baseball. Texas essentially unveiled a new stadium last season, North Carolina is finishing up its rebuilding project of Boshamer Stadium, and Miami is in the middle of renovations.
Ole Miss, an SEC competitor, also knows what stadium renovations can do for a program. The Rebels, like many others, are in the middle of a massive renovation campaign that will increase seating capacity from around 5,000 to around 7,000 chair back seats with the possibility of 10,000 total on the stadium grounds.
Stadium renovations, Ole Miss recruiting coordinator Rob Reinstetle said, are programs' way of saying they're willing to pump resources into the baseball program. Reinstetle also believes stadium renovations are needed to compete in the SEC against teams such as LSU, South Carolina and Arkansas, who also has an excellent facility.
"To compete in a conference like the SEC, it's just imperative to have a great facility," Reinstetle said. "It's also a huge factor in the recruiting process because recruits want to come in for a visit and see new facilities."
For some, though, progress can be a tricky word. College football and basketball were the first college sports to go through the crazy facilities race. Oregon has a football locker room that is borderline ridiculous, while some basketball programs feel the need to construct NBA-like locker rooms and practice gyms.
The crazy price tags for facilities in football and basketball also bring with them high expectations, and college baseball is next in line. But do coaches see the facility developments ultimately as a good thing for the sport?
"The money for these facilities is coming from somewhere, and people want to see a winner," Reinstetle said. "Expectations at Ole Miss are high no matter what stadium we're in, but people definitely want to see dividends when you renovate stadiums."
For Tanner, the dance definitely is worth the impending rise in expectations.
"You get into the coaching profession for a few reasons, and one of them is winning," he said. "Having a new facility should only make your desire even stronger."
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.