College Football's Never-Ending Arms Race

By Kyle Rowland on April 22, 2014 at 8:30a

There are several constants in present-day intercollegiate athletics: the hypocrisy of the NCAA and a growing arms race between college football programs.

Death. Taxes. New turf fields.

Ohio State has among the best facilities in all of college football. Or football period, NFL included. But that hasn’t stopped the Buckeyes from making several upgrades since the turn of the century.

Just seven years after an extensive overhaul of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, one of the sport’s Taj Mahals is getting another facelift – of $2.5 million. That’s some strong botox.

Dating to a 2001 renovation of Ohio Stadium, Ohio State has spent nearly $250 million on upgrades to football facilities. The latest projects include an expansion of south stands, permanent lights, a new locker room at the WHAC, the installation of new FieldTurf at Ohio Stadium and two practice fields and maintenance on concrete inside the stadium.

It’s all being done in the name of staying elite. Urban Meyer wants the best players and understands that securing them means offering the top facilities.

“A lot of what you see in some places is plainly addressing deferred maintenance,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told Eleven Warriors. “Typically when you deal with deferred maintenance you also make improvements that help current athletes and help in recruiting. Athletics is no different than engineering or medicine, to attract the best and retain the best, you have to have the resources, which include facilities.”

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill experienced the horrors of losing a recruit due to inadequate practice quarters. Despite a sparkling five-year-old $300 million stadium with glitzy accommodations, the Gophers have arguably the worst practice facility in the Big Ten. The Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex was built in 1985 and is, not surprisingly, outdated.   

The 12,000-squre foot facility doesn’t feature the bells and whistles seen at Ohio State, Alabama and USC, whose buildings are three times the size of Minnesota’s. The Gophers are not keeping up with the Joneses.

Minnesota’s antiquated $5 million facility doesn’t even have a ceiling height conducive for punting and kicking.  In the uber-competitive world of recruiting, falling behind rival schools can be a death knell. 

The Vikings are pumping $4.5 million into TCF Bank Stadium during their two-year stay. But college practice facilities have become more valuable than stadiums, where teams only spend three-plus hours out of the week.

Hockey legend Lou Nanne, a Minnesota grad, is chairing a $190 million fundraising drive for improvements of university athletic facilities. In March, the Star-Tribune reported Minnesota would break ground on a new $ 70 million indoor football complex in December. But Nanne and athletic director Norwood Teague refuted the report.

Nanne said the price tag is much smaller and there’s no timetable for when construction might begin. The university is still in the fundraising stage, adding that a football facility is at the top of the list.

Among the dozens of current projects taking place across the Big Ten landscape is Michigan’s $9 million overhaul of Schembechler Hall, which includes 14,000 square feet of team and office space and a state of the art museum dedicated to Michigan football; Iowa’s $55 million 76,000-square foot football operations center; Northwestern’s lakefront facility on the shores of Lake Michigan, which is estimated to cost more than $220 million; and skyrocketing head coach and assistant coaches contracts. 

Since 2001, Big Ten schools have spent more than $1.5 billion on new or upgraded football venues, ranging from a new stadium to new practice facilities to fancy scoreboards. All 14 schools, including Maryland and Rutgers, have had extensive stadium renovations. Maryland and Rutgers enter the Big Ten after stadium upgrades totaling more than $160 million. Updating facilities has proven to be a recession-proof industry.  

Ohio Stadium was built in 1922 at a cost of $1.34 million. During its first 80 years of existence, the Horseshoe was relatively untouched. But that changed with a $194 million renovation from 2000 to 2001.

The track was removed, which allowed the field to be lowered and seating closer to the action. Suites, a new press box, permanent south stands and a state-of-the-art video board were among the biggest changes. The seating capacity rose more than 10,000 to 101,568.

For the 2014 season, it will be 104,851, thanks to an additional 2,522 seats in south stands. 

According to Sports Business Journal, from 1995-2005, spending on athletic facilities across the country topped $15 billion. Decisions are made with fan experience in mind. But every choice major college football programs make is with a recruiting edge in mind.

“It’s an arms race out there in recruiting,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who admitted Ohio State “probably” has the best facilities in the Big Ten. “For the long-term success of our programs, our facilities needed to be addressed. These have been adequate and they’ve worked and we’ve won games with these facilities, but with the pace of recruiting, like it or not, it’s important to recruits. If you can’t recruit, you can’t survive.”

Michigan had that in mind when it constructed the 104,000-square foot $26 million Al Glick Fieldhouse in 2009. Combined with Schembechler Hall, the Wolverines have team meeting rooms that also can be found in the Waldorf-Astoria.

Players from major programs experience better daily conditions than middle-class families. There are swanky locker rooms, couches, lounge chairs, countless flat screen HDTVs, pool tables, video games, basketball courts and swimming pools.

“There’s an arms race that continues to grow,” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said. “We’re doing fine. You’re not going to find a better [facility].”

Now, more than ever, there are consistent sources of income for athletic departments, with TV contracts in the tens of millions of dollars, deep-pocketed boosters never shying away to help out Old State U and a spike in ticket prices. Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin have done renovations to their stadiums, all built in the 1920s, for more than $100 million apiece.

The bulk of those projects were funded by sales of suites, club seats and other private donations. Naming rights is another lucrative avenue for universities. Illinois’ recently renamed Assembly Hall, now the State Farm Center, is part of a $60 million deal with the insurance giant that lasts 30 years.

In 2013, Big Ten members received a $25.7 million payout from the conference. $19 million was TV revenue, with more than $6 million coming from the Big Ten Network. Conference schools have benefitted since the network’s launch in 2007, as its revenue has increased 57 percent.

“The Big Ten Network is the best thing since canned soup,” Indiana athletic director Fred Glass told ESPN. “That’s how Rip Van Winkle is waking up here in Indiana. It’s not hyperbole to say that every one of our 24 sports have benefited from facility improvements which were driven by Big Ten Network revenues.”

Ohio State earns an additional $11 million annually from a media rights deal with IMG.

“I spend about 65 percent of my time fund raising and in revenue generation,” Smith said.

The proof of an arms race is at every turn, whether it’s waterfalls in Tuscaloosa, Arizona’s $378 million stadium expansion or LSU’s Tiger Stadium project. But the $50 million and hundreds of millions spent by Indiana and Northwestern, respectively, is all the evidence one needs.

For the Wildcats, it’s such a significant undertaking that it’s been titled “Game Changer” by the university.

“We’ve seen great momentum with that in the recruiting process,” Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said last fall when the plans were announced. “I don’t know how many teleconferences I’ve been on with our architect team. It’s kind of cool for me.

“I’ve only bought spec homes so I don’t really care what the urinal looks like, you know what I mean? I guess it’s important for recruiting.”


Comments Show All Comments

Oyster's picture

Hopefully they get the end zone color right this time.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

+7 HS
Kyle Rowland's picture

They're going to be red. 

Oyster's picture

I think they are doing that on purpose, just to irritate people.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

+4 HS
BuckeyeBBD's picture

Am I the only one that likes the scarlet endzones? I think the letters should be gray, but I really like the scarlet endzones...

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Wayne Woodrow Hayes

+3 HS
Oyster's picture

I would like to see scarlet end zones too.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

+1 HS
Troy0782's picture

So the new FieldTurf will just be an updated version of what is already in place, or will there be any changes in appearance?

Buckidelphia's picture

That's a violation brother. Shouldn't the end zones be Scarlet?

bucksfan92's picture

One end zone in scarlet with grey letters, the other in grey with scarlet letters.  Simple solution.

buckeyes7222's picture

Recruits don't go to Minnesota because they have poor facilities? I was totally mistaken, I thought other reasons were stopping them. Thanks for clarifying!

+2 HS
d1145fresh's picture

Not sure if it was from the poll question on here the other day or just random thoughts... but I do wonder when Ohio Stadium will play its last game. It is a great facility but it is nearing 100 years old and parts of it are wearing down some. While I love the stadium I could only imagine what OSU would build to replace it. If people think this stadium is massive the next one would be ridiculous.

Kyle Rowland's picture

I'd say there's little chance there will be a new stadium in the next 50-80 years. They've done complete overhauls to reinforce concrete, etc. I don't think the age is all that relevant if you do upgrades. 

d1145fresh's picture

I guess that is true that they have kept the facility (structurally at least) in very good shape. I just keep hearing talks about Wrigley and Fenway and the other great stadiums/ball parks beginning to have that discussion of a new build.

jhart's picture

Wrigley has been talked about being rebuilt for a long time due to a couple of factors.  The biggest of which are a lack of upkeep (10 years ago chunks of concrete were falling into the stands - they actually had to install netting to catch any falling concrete), and the facility itself doesn't provide a great fan experience (outside of history, etc.).  The concourses are woefully small, concessions are terrible, and the bathrooms...are small and far between.

Ohio Stadium has avoided these pitfalls with constant upkeep, and the renovation done at the turn of the century.  Also, I think the experience of going to a college football game allows a little more leeway in what fans expect from the stadium than what they do for MLB or the NFL.  But, if ticket prices keep going up that will change.

Supposedly, they will be starting a $500MM rehab (or there abouts) of Wrigley after this season (assuming the rooftop owners and city aldermen can pull their collective heads out of their posteriors).  That will hopefully make the fan experience better for attending games, and should prolong Wrigley's lifespan another 20-30 years, at least.

Personally, I would love for them to tear down the stadium and rebuild a new Wrigley Field in its current location.

Larrinator's picture

I wonder how many seats Ohio Stadium will have in 10 years. 120,000?


Furious George 27's picture

Its going to be a helluva view from E Deck


Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+5 HS
Deadly Nuts's picture

Second deck on the south stands. I know it will be here in less than 20 years.


hodge's picture

"...a state of the art museum dedicated to Michigan football"

I totally read that as "An art museum dedicated to Michigan football"...which is about the most Michigan thing ever.

+6 HS
RBuck's picture

And exactly where it belongs; in a museum.

Long live the southend.

+6 HS
cronimi's picture

Tentative name for the structure is "University of Michigan Museum of Ancient History".

+8 HS
CGroverL's picture

Great comment!!! Wolverine fans are like Cubs fans...I'll never figure out how they get so many fans to root for their perennial losers.........Oops...did I say that out loud?

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



pcon258's picture

So with seating now at 104k, I have a question. How is it that, even before these renovations, the shoe has been able to hold 106,000? Does the stadium do standing-room only tickets? How do those work? I know they include the players, staff, media, etc. but I still don't see how the number gets so high

Kyle Rowland's picture

For college football games, every person in the stadium is counted. That's why the official attendance is higher than capacity. 

Furious George 27's picture

So concession and vendors are counted? Interesting

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
CarolinaBuck's picture

In the next 10 years, I think we will see naming rights for both the stadium and field. Plus advertising on our uniforms, not as bad initially as Nascar drivers, but there will be some.

PS:  I was really hoping we would get away from that blood red end zone 

Jdadams01's picture

There already is: the Nike swoosh. Nike pays for the right to be advertised on OSU players.

+3 HS
Furious George 27's picture

Grey endzones would be pretty sweet IMO.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
Osurrt's picture

Most people try to stay out of the gray zone---lol

sbentz4's picture

I don't know about the next 10 years, but maybe further in the future.  It is really hard to predict what will happen until everything has settled with paying athletes and the future of the NCAA.  If the "student-athletes" get paid, they will definitely try to generate additional revenue instead of taking a loss.  If this happens, I can see additional sponsors like in the BPL.

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Which means you would also see sponsors on the jerseys, like pro soccer leagues.

I would totally buy a Budweiser sponsored Buckeye jersey while laughing at the Summers Eve scUM jersey.

+2 HS
Bugsyk's picture

In the late 90's when Andy Gieger came to the stadium dorm to discuss the impact of upcoming renovations to the stadium and their cost, he mentioned naming rights.  His response was adamant, "The Ohio Stadium name will never be for sale."  Now we see the Tim Horton's branding on the section 9 tunnel at the spring game...oh how times change.

FROMTHE18's picture

As long as the Shoe can stand, I expect OSU to play there. There are too many valuable aspects of the place to ever consider playing in a new stadium unless absolutely necessary.

+1 HS
DC-town's picture

Osu prints money in the basement so with the extensive upgrade and maitenance they've done on the shoe, there's no need to re-build it...I've been to probably 10 college venues and none are as nice or loud as&e shoe (aside from when we play San Diego St)

'Piss excellence' -RB

+1 HS
seafus26's picture

Ha, sounds like some of these indoor practice facilities at Texas high schools are better and certainly newer than that Minnesota facility. My request to the 'Shoe, lets get some buzzers at AA or  A level  seats that we can order and pay for our food to be delivered to us. And lets have available more than just concession stand food. 

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

You don't need buzzers, you just need a smart phone app.

seafus26's picture

True. I'll take it. Man I made my first trip to the Outhouse in Ann Arbor, last year. That thing was so dated and an absolute dump. Lets continue to widen the gap on them

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

DoubleB's picture

Assuming you can get cell service in the shoe.... which is spotty during games.


Ethos's picture

First, that Northwestern facility is the real deal.  That thing looks amazing, it has a god damn beach people, a beach!  So nice job there Fitz.

Second, a museum.  That couldn't be more Michigan.  Michigan's problem is they are constantly looking in the past and never ahead in the future.  What a bunch of maroons.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

seafus26's picture

I don't consider a beach as an attraction unless you can use 9-10 months out if the year. Otherwise it's just another ugly dead piece of frozen real estate

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

EvanstonBuckeye's picture

After this winter? C'mon, man! I'm just south of Northwestern's campus and, believe me, a trip to the beach before, after, or instead of classes will be well-received by students for the 4-5 months it can be used.

JakeBuckeye's picture

What a bunch of maroons.

You're right, Michigan never had a good taste in shades of red.

BIGHEC39's picture

[Ohio-State-Logo] I would like to see the Ohio State logo at the 50 yard line instead of the block 'O'


CGroverL's picture

The "Block O" is kinda cool simply because it looks the same from either side of the field. That's important for people like me that suffer from OCD and wouldn't want to sit on the side that has an upside down Ohio State Logo...Hell, I always thought that TBDBITL did Script Ohio doubled so it faces both sidelines just for me. Roses are red, Violets are blue...I'm schizophrenic, And so am I.

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



+3 HS
AeroBuckeye2001's picture

Weren't we supposed to get cell-repeaters and wifi at Ohio Stadium a couple of years ago? There's nothing more frustrating than losing cell coverage for 3 hours during games. 

The Ohio State University Class of 2001

BS Aero & Astronautical Engineering

CALPOPPY's picture

...and a growing arms race between college football programs.

Death. Taxes. New turf fields.

You reversed the  "a" and "e" in Texas.

I'm a hurtin' buckaroo.

gwalther's picture

No, he actually misspelled "Ohio" there.

Class of 2008