In big-time Division I college football, there are wants and there are needs. The Colorado Buffaloes want to become relevant in the Pac-12 conference, but first they need to upgrade sports facilities that have fallen far behind many other programs. Hopefully, after bringing in $143 million dollars to spend on major stadium and facilities improvements, the school will have the means to catch up.
Considering the rapidly evolving college football landscape, it unlikely the university has much of a choice. Do nothing and the university will find every recruit telling them they like Boulder, thanks for all the free food, and they will be looking elsewhere. Fortunately for the Buffaloes, Athletic Director Rick George, school President Bruce Benson, the Board of Regents, alumni and boosters all know which way the wind is blowing and that the school either goes with it or gets blown away.
Every other team in the PAC-12 is either planning to upgrade their facilities, is in the process of doing so, or has completed work in the past few years. As of now, the gold standard, at least until other schools have finished spending their millions, is the University of Oregon.
When the Ducks opened their palatial $68 million, 145,000-square foot football training center last year, the college world was more than a bit envious. A partial list of amenities included: a lobby with 64 55-inch televisions, a 25,000-square foot weight room with Brazilian wood floors, German-built lockers with a built-in ventilation system to remove smells from the locker room, and on and on, ad absurdum. The building even has its own barber shop.
In order to keep up, a national arms race of weight rooms, cafeterias, film study theaters, hot tubs, and indoor practice facilities is under way. Every major conference college team with hopes of remaining relevant is upgrading their facilities. They have to. Top recruits knows the amenities schools can bring to the table and if a school like Colorado can not keep up, even playing in a prominent conference like the Pac-12 and in the most beautiful college town in the nation, a new wing must be built on the Buffaloes’ house.
So here is what a $143 million dollar wing looks like: an 120,000 square-foot indoor multipurpose practice facility and track built just east of Folsom Field, a refurbishment of the aging Dal Ward center that will include an Olympic sports training room in the sub-basement level, new locker and equipment rooms, an end zone club with premium seating and new high-end boxes, more restroom and concessions, a high performance sports training center and rooftop terrace, new offices, meeting rooms, administration space, and sport science facilities.
Altogether, a completely upgraded facility for all the university’s student athletes, but everyone knows what it is about: the black and gold-clad football team running on to the field eight times a year behind a live buffalo.
Colorado’s $143 million is at the high end of what other Pac-12 teams are spending, but is by no means the highest. The University of Washington has spent $250 million dollars renovating Husky Stadium and adding new facilities. Arizona State plans on redesigning Sun Devil Stadium, including building shade coverings over the stands, and will throw in a new athletic center while they are at it for $300 million dollars. The Cal Bears seem to have gotten a bargain when they spent two years bringing California Memorial Stadium into the 21st century while adding new facilities for only $150 million dollars. All this while other teams in the conference are scrambling to finish their own multi-million dollar projects.
Which begs the question – if all Pac-12 schools have upgraded facilities, doesn’t that bring everybody back to square one? So the Buffaloes will have the same as the Utes who will have the same as the Trojans who will have the same as the Cougars. Maybe one school will have a larger hot tub or more flavors of ice-cream in the cafeteria, but not lacking for amenities anywhere means recruits can just to go back to choosing a school based on coaching, tradition, atmosphere, or even academics. Colorado, therefore, could build a relevant football team on its own, but will still have the same recruiting advantages and disadvantages it has always had. Nothing much will change, except the $143 million dollars worth of new athletic facilities the Buffaloes will use to at least stand their ground in the Pac-12. Hopefully that alone is worth it.
Commentary by Andrew Elfenbein