Well, they might come. Hopefully, they come. The setting’s not the same, but the sentiment of the 1989 movie Field of Dreams carries through to today’s Syracuse University football program. On Wednesday, Feb. 26, SU announced plans for a new 87,000-square-foot indoor practice facility at a cost estimated at $17 million. Construction is expected to begin later this year.
The announcement, along with last year’s upgrades to the Iocolano-Petty Football Wing, are indicative of the ever-evolving nature of college athletics, where facilities play an increasingly large role in recruiting student-athletes.
“Competitively, we’re ready for the ACC,” said athletic director Daryl Gross in an interview Feb. 26 on Syracuse Orange All-Access. “But we’ve got to do the things and give our football team the resources they need to compete on an everyday basis, year-round, for years to come.”
The emphasis on buildings and amenities is a fairly recent development in the landscape of major college sports. Recent, but relevant.
“I think that’s a very big part of the arms race,” said Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director. “If you go back 20 years ago, the pitch to recruits was, ‘We go to a bowl game, and we’ve got great facilities.’ Now everybody seems to go to a bowl game, and everybody seems to have great facilities. So if you are not keeping up with the Joneses in that regard, you’re going to fall further and further behind.”
With next year’s move to the Atlantic Coast Conference in mind, faced with the prospect of competing against traditional football superpowers with deep pockets such as Florida State and Miami, SU’s football program had to show its willingness to spend money.
“Kids these days want to look good, they want to feel good, and then they play good,” said SU head football coach Scott Shafer on Orange All-Access. “That’s what they all say. And there’s something to that, too. When you put a kid in a professional-type situation where everything is state of the art, there’s a feel of professionalism.”
Syracuse football has an additional hurdle to climb, thanks to basketball coach Jim Boeheim and his 912 wins. While there’s certainly a rich football tradition, most of that success is, at least in the minds of 18-year-olds, ancient history. SU’s reputation as a “basketball school” carries nationwide.
It’s not a problem unique to the Orange. Many traditional basketball powerhouses have struggled to attract top talent and sustain football success. And, like Syracuse, they’ve gone to great lengths to improve the perception of their football programs. In October, Duke announced $250 million worth of upgrades, most of which will go toward renovating its football stadium. Kentucky, after hiring coach Mark Stoops away from Florida State, announced it would pour $110 million to renovating its stadium and football facilities.
It makes the improvements by Syracuse seem almost pedestrian in comparison. Pedestrian, but necessary, if only for show.
“It’s a sign,” said Luginbill. “It’s a factor.
It’s something that shows prospective student athletes how serious you are as a program in the sport of football.”
But while the money spent on new facilities might make headlines, Shafer believes that the people in the program matter most in the end.
“I think facilities are important if they’re tools that help a player get better,” said Shafer at his signing-day news conference on Feb. 6. “We always try to remind our recruits that it’s about the relationships. It’s about the people that you’re going to be living with day to day, not necessarily about the house. We’re going to try to continue to upgrade the house, but let’s make sure the people in the house are more important than the building.”