If you build it, they will come: Better facilities paying dividends for college hoops programs
The facilities arms race in college athletics continues to escalate every year. Recently Georgetown unveiled their new John Thompson Center, which is one of the nicest practice facilities in the country, and Indiana finished off a $40 million renovation of Assembly Hall.
Georgetown and Indiana are far from the only schools opening new and shiny facilities for their players. Recently a video of dorms at the University of Kansas showed the incredible digs that the Jayhawks players enjoy, and it opened up eyes to those outside the realm of college athletics to what is being done for athletes across the country.
Of course the biggest reason for the arms race is recruiting. Having the newest, nicest, and best facilities is one of the most effective sells a coach can have on the recruiting trail, and several coaches are taking full advantage of new or renovated arenas, locker rooms, and practice facilities.
While we don’t know the exact impact that could come Georgetown’s way on the recruiting trail, we do know that the Hoyas landed their top recruit in years this week when No. 36 overall prospect Tremont Waters selected the school over Kentucky, Indiana, and Connecticut.
Also we have plenty of evidence from other schools who have opened new facilities that it can lead to a major bump in recruiting.
In the middle of last season Ole Miss moved from Tad Smith Coliseum to The Pavilion, a $96.4 million arena. For Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, it wasn't just immediate boon for the fans and the players, but it has also helped greatly on the recruiting trail.
“When we were in Tad Smith Coliseum and as the new facility was being built, there was a lot of talk about what a new facility would do immediately and in the big picture,” said Kennedy about the anticipation of having new facilities. “You can speculate, but the reality is you don’t have any idea of how impactful it will be.”
He continued, “It has transformed our program. We moved in to The Pavilion after the SEC season and had two home games in 48 hours. Both games sold out and we won both of them. There was just a new energy that came along with Ole Miss basketball.”
“Now we are in the midst of our first recruiting cycle with the new arena,” said Kennedy. “It can be a game changer because recruits and their families love new and shiny things. Going from something as old as what we had to what we are playing in now has been a game changer.”
Recently Ole Miss was able to beat out Oklahoma State for Top-100 prospect Devontae Shuler from Oak Hill Academy. While there is no way to know for sure what Shuler would have decided had Ole Miss not had their new facility, there is no question The Pavilion put the Rebels in a better position than ever to compete with schools such as Oklahoma State with tremendous basketball facilities.
“We’ve been able to win our share of battles in the past, but it puts you on more equal footing when recruiting marquee guys,” said Kennedy. “Kids have always seen Ole Miss and liked it, but now they see a great facility and a place full of energy, and it brings a new level of excitement to Ole Miss basketball.”
While a school such as Ole Miss built a brand new arena, Butler was never going to do something like that. Hinkle Fieldhouse is a cathedral of college basketball, but when Butler made the jump from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, it became clear the Bulldogs were way behind in the facilities race and needed to make upgrades.
Not only was Georgetown building The Thompson Center, but local rival Xavier was renovating its practice facility and weight room and DePaul already had plans for a brand new arena.
The Bulldogs still don’t have a practice facility, but they did do a 36 million dollar renovation to Hinkle Fieldhouse, and the Bulldogs have seen the benefits on the recruiting trail, especially in this recruiting cycle when they were able to beat out Ohio State for Ohio native and Top-100 prospect Kyle Young.
“There is no question the Hinkle renovations have helped us in recruiting,” said Butler Head Coach Chris Holtmann. “While I don’t think that is ever the reason someone chooses Butler, to suggest it isn’t a factor in the success we have had recruiting is unrealistic.”
Holtmann continued, “We love that we can practice and play in our Hinkle home year round, and we continue to have discussions about facility improvements that will continue to take Butler basketball to another level.”
While schools like Ole Miss and Butler are in power conferences, a school such as Dayton can sometimes fight a perception problem being in the Atlantic 10. Clearly the Flyers have one of the best young coaches in the sport and one of the biggest and most passionate fan bases around, but recruits might not know how committed Dayton is.
That is, until recruits are able to get on campus, and they see the re-done locker rooms, meeting rooms, and offices.
“When we first got here we had a high set of standards and expectations,” said Dayon head coach Archie Miller. “With that it was hard to sell the best of the best without the best facilities. I think all of that stuff matters a lot in recruiting. Now we compare favorably to any school in the country with what we can show recruits, it is a strength for us now with kids and their families.”
Miller continued, “Great facilities are probably the most important thing you have. You have to act in a way that isn’t different than anybody else. In a very short order here we’ve done some amazing upgrades, and our upgrades don’t come from football money.”
“Because of that we can show that type of investment we have in our program from donors and the administration,” said Miller. “It is impressive. Being able to put together the presentation we have allows us to recruit a kid who can go anywhere.”
Already in a key 2017 recruiting class the Flyers have three commitments including a pair of highly touted backcourt prospects in McKinley Wright and Jordan Davis who had offers from Big Ten, Big East, ACC, and SEC schools between them.
With the competition to get recruits getting more and more intense, there are no signs of the facilities arms race slowing down. Given the results new arenas, locker rooms, and weight rooms can bring on the recruiting trail, coaches and athletic departments are going to continue to re-invest hoping to have the best to show potential recruits.