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August 06, 2004

Spending Millions To Impress 18-Year Old Recruits

FROM THE HOOSIER STATE comes the latest in the arms race extravaganza.

Indiana University is finalizing plans for a $65 million athletic facility expansion.

More than half of the project involves Memorial Stadium: adding 2000 seats, enclosing part of the stadium, a new football office building for, a weight room, a sports medicine facility and a Hall of Fame.

The remaining sum will be devoted to new or expanded facilities for baseball, basketball, golf, field hockey, rowing, softball, tennis and volleyball.

Speaking in fluent ArmsRaceSpeak, Indiana AD Terry Clapacs said, "The proposal would just allow us to be more competitive when it comes to recruiting student-athletes. We need to get better across the board in that area."

Translation: we need flashy bricks and mortar showpieces to wow impressionable high school recruits.

Although IU’s investment is hardly chump change, the upgrade pales in comparison to the flashy, over-the-top expenditures regularly completed by one huge Division I school after another.

One school leapfrogs the other in adding plush, glitzy, cushy, premium, luxury frills and accoutrements that provide huge impact. From the VIP tailgating to club seating to season ticket seating according to donation levels, marketing-savvy college athletics administrators have learned full well how to coddle deep-pocketed alumni and supporters.

And there’s an interesting interconnected phenomenon that is related to the entire equation: whatever impresses the alumni donors also impresses starry-eyed high school recruits.

Not to pick on any one school in particular, let’s use Oregon as just a convenient example (there are similar excesses at dozens of other D1 programs).

Oregon recently built $3.2 million, absolute state-of-the-art locker rooms for its football team, with separate ventilation at each locker, posh carpeting, hardwood trim, ultra high-tech security system, etc.

Then the school hosted 25 high school recruits and dropped a huge wad--$140,000—on them, all in just one weekend.

When questioned about the expenditure (which could probably feed the entire Oregon undergraduate student body for a couple of weeks), Oregon AD Bill Moos said, “We can afford it.”

Sounds like George Steinbrenner. Or Donald Trump.

Mitigating the impact of the huge investment of money is the fact that the Indiana undertaking will be sourced by private funds.

Also, there’s Title IX element involved—this project will allow women’s field hockey to be played outside—where it belongs, rather than inside the Mellencamp football practice facility—where it doesn’t. Also, the upgrade will allow women’s volleyball to be played on campus, rather than cross-town where the current venue is located.

The arms race is not restricted to athletics facilities per se. Many “Campus Taj Mahals” built to attract non-athletes have gotten the attention of the prized high school football recruits as well.

Ohio State University spent $140 million on a 657,000 square foot facility with kayaks, indoor batting cages and a 50-person climbing wall. The University of Cincinnati is constructing a $200 million “student mall.” The University of Southern Mississippi has plans for a full-fledged water park.

Who knows what motivators will capture the fancy of 18-year old football recruits?

(this 490 word excerpt—with expansive and unequivocal commentary—was extracted from a 735 word article from IndyStar.com of 8-4-04)