Lazy river for PSU athletics? 'That's not who we are'
- Penn State recently announced a 20-year plan to modernize its athletics facilities.
- PSU AD Sandy Barbour said the school plans no "over the top" amenities, such as a lazy river.
- Barbour said PSU's facilities vision centers on education, training, conditioning and competition.
Penn State gave its football locker room a makeover last year, prompting players to dance amid their new, backlit digs.
Slick as the renovation is, grace notes were meant specifically to underscore Penn State's football story.
The locker room's carpet is black, for instance, which Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said mimics the team's black shoes. And the players' lockers contain no names on their exteriors, a nod to the nameless jerseys the Lions wear on Saturdays.
"There's nothing over the top, bells-and-whistles fancy about that locker room," Barbour said. "It's really nice, absolutely, but every element of that locker room helps tell our story."
That, Barbour concluded, is how Penn State intends to approach the continuing construction boom in college sports. Athletic departments are spending huge sums to pamper athletes, from a hydrotherapy waterfall at Alabama to lockers with 43-inch televisions at Texas to a proposed lazy river at the University of Central Florida.
Earlier this year, national-champ Clemson opened a $55-million football facility that includes a miniature golf course, a two-lane bowling alley and an outdoor fire pit. Clemson unveiled the football cruise ship on the recruiting holiday known as Signing Day.
All the eye-candy construction is designed to draw recruits to campus, and Penn State certainly plans to keep pace with the building boom. The school recently announced a 20-year plan to modernize its athletics facilities, which will include a sports district anchored by a new, 45,000-square-foot "Center of Excellence" and a multi-purpose indoor facility that even the golf teams will use.
But on Penn State's recent Coaches Caravan tour of Pennsylvania, Barbour made clear that the program's facilities vision centers on education, training, conditioning and competition. Plus, plenty of branding. The rest, Barbour said, is extraneous.
"The arms race is a reality in what we do," Barbour said. "We don't have to win it, we don't have to lead it. We've got to run the race. We have to be providing the facilities that meet the teaching, learning and training needs of our student-athletes on a daily basis. Does it need to be more than that? That's not who we are. That's not how we do things."
In unique position: Penn State is in a unique position now, having won the Big Ten football championship in just its third season under head coach James Franklin. The program generated more than $75.5 million in revenue in fiscal year 2015-16, according to its most recent financial statement, and is poised to continue growing.
With that, Franklin wants to pursue more resources for the program, whether through facilities upgrades or coaching salaries or staff support. On the Coaches Caravan, Franklin praised the locker-room, lobby and team meeting-room makeovers but said about 60 percent of the Lasch Football Building hasn't been updated. The team's outdoor turf was supposed to have been replaced 10 years ago, Franklin said.
Further, as part of negotiating a contract extension, Franklin said he regards funding for facilities and assistant coaches' salaries as vital to the process. Franklin studies what other programs do and spend regarding football, particularly those that are successful.
According to the Birmingham News, Alabama's nine assistant football coaches will make nearly $6 million combined, with two being paid more than $1 million. To that point, Franklin broadened Barbour's sentiment regarding facilities to coaching salaries, which continue to climb as well.
"I don't think we need to be in the position where we're the highest-paid staff in the country," Franklin said, "but we have to have an understanding of what the market demands. If it just comes down to money, then you're always going to be in a tough spot. There's always somebody out there that is willing to push the needle. We want to be fair to people but we want to make sure they have all the other things in place so that they feel this is the best situation for them and their families moving forward."
Beaver Stadium: For Penn State, a huge component of its facilities future is Beaver Stadium, which is scheduled to undergo significant change, though not within the next five years. Phil Esten, deputy director of athletics, said while Penn State wants to use Beaver Stadium for events beyond football, the master plan identified venues that required more immediate attention.
Beaver Stadium will host its first concert this summer and Esten said the athletic department continues to explore options such as international soccer matches and NHL outdoor hockey. And when it's renovated, Beaver Stadium will retain a significant piece of Penn State's athletics branding.
"Penn State has always had really good space, but we haven't used it to tell our story," Barbour said. "Some might call it branding. I don't necessarily think it's bells and whistles. It's taking proper advantage of the opportunity to tell our story."