Where Everything is an Arms Race, College Athlete Housing has Entered the Recruiting Discussion

By Kyle Rowland on June 18, 2014 at 1:00p

Facilities have always factored into recruits’ decision making. But the definition of facilities has become broader on 21st century college campuses that include opulent dorm rooms. More and more, athletes are putting added important on living quarters when deciding where to spend their next four years.

In a 2013 survey conducted by Galain Solutions, 179 college football players were polled on a series of factors that contributed to their college choice. Campus living facilities ranked as the sixth most important indicator – and universities have taken notice.

A majority of Ohio State’s freshmen and sophomore football and basketball players, who have elected not to live off campus, live in the Worthington Building or the Residence on 10th. Both structures are appealing to the eye from inside and outside, built in the past decade, and located near the Younkin Success Center and Marketplace. The Worthington Building is a five-story dorm that consists of four-person apartment style rooms that include two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a common area.

The Residence on 10th, completed last year, is $37 million, 186,000-square foot building of lavishness. It could be converted into a Four Seasons with minimal renovations. The six-story building has six-person suites with three bedrooms, a living room and individual bathrooms.

Not bad living arrangements for an 18-year-old.

One Ohio State student-athlete described it as living in an upscale apartment. At Kentucky, accommodations are even more impressive.

John Calipari, the maestro of recruiting, spearheaded a basketball player residence hall on the campus of the University of Kentucky. The end result was the $7 million Wildcat Coal Lodge. It features flat-screen TVs, a chef and leather recliners galore – a high-end Costco if you will.

Calipari refers to the palatial living quarters as the gold standard of athlete housing.

“All of the needs of our players are met,” he said.

These types of facilities are the beginning of college sports’ latest arms race. Joining in on the craze is Kansas, which announced in January it would build a $17.5 million privately funded apartment complex that will be the latest benchmark. Housed in the complex will be the Jayhawks’ men’s and women’s basketball players, as well as 34 general population students.

The impetus for the building was none other than recruiting. Kansas head coach Bill Self was aware other programs were using their posh player digs as a recruiting tool, so he thought, “Why not us?”

Of course, there is criticism of what’s going on, as there tends to be in the overspending world of intercollegiate athletics. Some critics believe it’s ridiculous that buildings are being built simply to house athletes, while others argue that athletes should be assimilated into the general population near the heart of campus.

The NCAA outlawed athletic dorms in 1996. But like anything, there are loopholes around it if more than half the residents are non-athletes.

If you build it, they will come. And they sprinted to Auburn’s Donahue Hall when it was completed last year. The $51 million suite-style residence hall contains 209 rooms. Nearly the entire football team lives in the building. But it conveniently houses more non-athletes.

Donahue Hall is located near Auburn’s athletic building, weight room, football practice fields, athletic academic building and wellness center.

“The team bonding is very important,” said Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, whose team played for a national championship last season. “I told our team that’s what we were doing the very first week I was here. Some of them weren’t happy about it, but now they’re excited about it. They understand why we’re doing it. It’s to help our team.”

Most coaches around the country are in favor of isolating their teams to one living location. It limits the chances of getting in trouble and makes it easier to supervise. The NCAA’s stance on the matter is mixed. They’ve stated athletes should be part of the student population. In an era when most people believe special privileges run rampant, having athletes interact with their classmates – and deal with cold showers and modest living conditions – is not frowned upon.

But changes could be coming. The NCAA has opened up dialogue about re-opening athletic dorms on campuses. Until decisions are made, schools will continue opening extravagant buildings meant to house athletes with some other students sprinkled in.

Oklahoma’s $75 million Headington Hall is steps away from Memorial Stadium and includes suites for more than 500 students. Over 100 of them happen to be football players, who can enjoy the game room, 75-seat movie theater and the Sam Bradford Training Table. The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and running back Adrian Peterson each donated $500,000 for the project. The building is named after Tim Headington, a former Oklahoma tennis athlete, who donated $10 million.

Headington Hall occupies a full city block.

Athletic director Joe Castiglione told the Kansas City Star the project was not about “largesse” but about needs.

“We wanted to improve our situation, and I don’t think you wouldn’t do it in a first-class way if you had the chance,” he said.

Some see a shift away from academic spending for athletes, resulting in a win-at-all-costs mentality. But that’s nothing new in college sports, where winning is akin to penicillin. With spare money lying around, though, thanks to colossal TV deals, record revenue from football programs and a high return on merchandise, ADs and coaches believe it must be spent somewhere to stay one step ahead of the competition.

“In order for us to maintain and even exceed what we’ve been doing, there are certain things that have to be done,” Self said. “Bells and whistles are very, very important.”


Comments Show All Comments

trigg03's picture

Things like this are what seperates the "haves" from the "have not's" much like Oregon's new Athletic center...it is meant to sway kids to come to their school. I don't see a thing wrong with it as long as situations such as what was happening at Oklahoma's athletic dorm during Switzer's time doesn't become the norm.

YTOWNBUCKI's picture

I can recall my dorm being the shittiest living conditions of my life.  Three dudes crammed into a room the size of a typical bedroom (maybe even smaller) and communal bathrooms...but damn if it wasn't the time of my life.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors

Go get your shine box, Gumar!

+11 HS
Chief B1G Dump's picture

Holy cow. Can we just stop this whole NCAA student-athlete amateurism sham?

Great for athletes and I get the impetus of this but dang - The fact that Kentucky players live in the Ritz of dorms with chefs, butlers, concierges, etc and we are getting hammered over TatGate somewhow still manages to amaze me. $100 handshakes occasionally make it in the news. Or some players claim to be starving at solid programs like UConn. Just stop all this crap and let natural selection take its course. 


+6 HS
FROMTHE18's picture

I think the fact you are surprised an SEC program does stuff like that amazes me. 

Chief B1G Dump's picture

It's not that the SEC does or doesn't do anything. It's the whole NCAA schtick that athletes allegedly aren't supposed to get perks not available to other students and that whole line of thought...yet there are gyms, facilities, world class locker rooms, bowl gifts and packages, free gear, housing, tutors, chefs, etc. 

Yet the occasional news about impermissible benefits slips through the cracks and there's mock outrage. That's what still surprises me. 

+8 HS
M Man's picture

Can I ask why we blame the NCAA for any "sham amateruism"?  The NCAA is working its ass off, trying to craft rules and then enforce them, because the institutions are treating amateurism as a sham.

This isn't a rivalry thing for me.  I can see Brian Cook writing something very similar on MGoBlog, regarding Michigan's new Davidson* Player Development Center for basketball.  A mixture of cynicism over "amateurism" and marvel at how good "we" can be at attracting the star athletes we want.

Michigan does not currently have a dorm arrangement for football like you do; although the older dorms that were traditionally used for football players (South Quad and West Quad) have undergone some major revisions.  Of course all college dorms -- for athletes and non-athletes alike -- are part of the general intercollegiate arms race.

So you wonder why your tuition is so expensive?  You wonder why your seat license is more than your car payment?  Welcome to the world of "sham amateurism."  Brought to you NOT by the NCAA; but rather by the athletic departments at Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Texas... and Michigan and Ohio State.

I'll say again as I frequently do; this issue is one which, if Dave Brandon and Gene Smith won't convene a summit to hash it out, ought to be the subject of questioning of them individually by all of us alumni/fans/boosters.

* "Davidson" as in, "Gift of the late Billionaire Bill (Detroit Pistons and Guardian Glass) Davidson's widow as part of his estate plan."

+4 HS
Chief B1G Dump's picture

I do not blame the schools for the cat and mouse game played with "the rules" the NCAA is supposed to partially create and wholly monitor and enforce.  I blame the NCAA for an antiquated system that has failed to adapt and completely failed to govern and judge collegiate entities by the same parameters.  There are far too many gray areas and far too inconsistent enforcement of subjective rules and/or sanctions across the board.  The entire notion that "student athletes" shouldnt have perks not available to other students is beyond ridiculous when it is totally permisable to have this type of housing, tutors, concierge, chefs, nutritionists, free gear, free off season trips to train with Navy Seals, state of the art locker rooms with every type of gaming system/ping pong/pool/you name it, bowl gift packages, movie theaters, iPads, etc and that is no problem.  This are just the tidbits we know about...the culture behind the scenes and in the gray areas are surely more outlandish and some is legal and some is not.  My problem then comes in when the NCAA cherry picks who they punish and to what extent.  There is no real consistency to what is permissible and what isnt anymore.  I am very tired at the mock outrage for things like AJ Green selling his jersey, TatGate, Johnny Manziel autographs because and the like because its a perk other schools and/or students could not capitalize on (even though they legally could if anyone cared enough) - but then these kids can receive all of the status perks listed above but that the Average Joe has to pay an arm and a leg for.  The NCAA needs to just pick a lane and stay in it...for me its the same as refereeing, I dont care if youre super harsh or super laissez faire - just be consistent so we all know how/what to do.  This whole amateurism system was circumvented and loopholed to death years ago.  Now we're into to paying players above and beyond their scholarship stipends and unions...then the whole O'Bannon suit about NCAA capitalizing on this.  I'm tired of the NCAA, not the schools.

Also, no I do not wonder at all at all why my tuition was so high or why ticket prices keep going up but thank you for your opinion.  I am not, nor was I, talking about tuition hikes and ticket price increases.  There are many facets and dynamics to it but that is largely a separate argument from what I am talking about.  Every college is trying to recruit students as well as athletes and there are many blurred lines.  In the end, it is simple opportunity cost...if you dont want to pay for tuition or current tickets, then dont go.  While the demand battles the supply, the price-points will go up as they are able.  But again, my basic point was that the NCAA system is a sham and they are clearly in over their head at this point.  Either regroup and crack down OR just get the hell out of the way and keep collecting checks.

+3 HS
theopulas's picture

well....you guys brought it....nice read....seems the NCAA is saying they are the only one who can pay the players....


+1 HS
BuckeyeJ's picture

I was looking for the "bag man" under the stairs! 

+1 HS
Jeremypreemo81's picture

Stradley Hall on south campus!!!!  enough said

Will in Arizona's picture

I wonder how many of the "general population" students in the dorm are tutors, trainers, assistants, etc.

+1 HS
dancinhomer321's picture

Probably a few, but my guess is they are mostly smoking hot coeds.

Buckeye 4 Life!

+3 HS
216ToThe614's picture

*Sam Bradford

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!

jhart's picture

Oklahoma’s $75 million Headington Hall is steps away from Memorial Stadium and includes suites for more than 500 students. Over 100 of them happen to be football players, who can enjoy the game room, 75-seat movie theater and the Sam Bedford Training Table.

Who's Sam Bedford? ;-)

+1 HS
teddyballgame's picture

If you've got the money ...use it.

+1 HS
Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I'd live in a van down by the river if I got a schollie to play at OSU!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

+5 HS
Oldschoolbuck's picture


This came to mind when the "Sam Bradford Training Table" was mentioned. Here's the Jabba the Hoke table...

+1 HS