MORGANTOWN — I’ve never been one who considered bigger to be better, new preferable to old or high-tech more desirable than old school.
There are exceptions, of course. I’m not eager to return to pre-computer days or to trade in my pickup truck for my original 1972 Pinto. I like central air better than window fans and the idea of returning to a rotary-dial phone just doesn’t do much for me.
I bring that up because it struck me the other day that most of West Virginia University’s athletic facilities were built when almost all of those things were the norm.
Apparently it struck Oliver Luck that way, too.
“Since I was a student-athlete there have only been two competition venues that have been built,’’ said Luck, whose final season as a WVU quarterback was 1981. “A lot of our venues have aged.’’
And while sometimes an aged facility can be quaint, that’s not the case at WVU. They’re just old.
In the case of the Coliseum (built in 1970) and Mountaineer Field (1980), they were never all that attractive to begin with. Think of places like Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. They were huge, concrete bowls built in roughly the same era and were eventually blown up and replaced with new parks. That they were replaced by parks that harken back to an even older time says quite a bit, namely that these concrete monstrosities weren’t all they were cracked up to be.
West Virginia can’t afford to blow up its facilities. And so it is doing the next-best thing and remodeling them.
Complain if you will about spending $106 million on refurbishing athletic facilities, but the fact is Luck could have three times that amount at his disposal and still not be able to bring a lot of WVU’s facilities up to par with some of the others in the Big 12 Conference. If you consider that an exaggeration, well, you’ve probably never been to Boone Pickens Stadium at Oklahoma State or Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin and you’ve likely not seen the football stadium Baylor is building along the Bravos River.
It’s not just new construction, either. Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas is older than dirt, but what they’ve done to maintain and modernize it without destroying the tradition is amazing. Ditto Gallagher-Iba Arena at OSU.
And it’s certainly not just the schools in the Big 12. I was at LSU a few weeks ago for the third time in the last nine years and the improvements made to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center are stunning. To even attempt to compare LSU’s overall athletic facilities with those of WVU would be comical, yet that’s the kind of program against whom West Virginia fans expect the Mountaineers to compete, be it in football, basketball, gymnastics or anything else.
A $106 million infusion? Baylor is spending $250 million on a new football stadium alone. Oregon and USC just spent around $70 million each on football centers (not stadiums, just offices and locker rooms, etc.). Michigan spent more than $225 million just to renovate its football stadium.
West Virginia is using $106 million and spreading it out over virtually every athletic facility it has. And in many cases it’s not to create glitzier facilities, but to simply bring them up to minimum standards:
n Visiting soccer teams spend halftime in a tent at Dick Dlesk Stadium. So a second locker room will be built.
n The Coliseum is 102 restroom units (read: urinals and toilets) short of federal standards. The football stadium can’t be far off that number.
n The tennis courts aren’t even regulation size, nor is the pool in the natatorium. The track in the Shell Building is original.
n The Coliseum was built as a multi-use building that housed classrooms and the phys ed department. All of that will be repurposed now that the phys ed department is moving out.
n And the football stadium is little more than 60,000 seats hovering over a handful of primitive restrooms and concessions stands. Expanding the concourses outward should have been done long ago.
This is not to create any sort of woe-is-us impression regarding WVU and its facilities. The fact is, the school is in far better shape today than it was just two years ago. There’s no way $106 million would have been available when WVU was in the Big East.
But if there is any sort of notion that this investment is over the top or magically puts West Virginia on even footing with its competitors, well, that’s misguided. Even the construction of a new $5 million team room for football, which seems extravagant, is merely a best-available-effort to keep up with the Joneses. The current team room in the Puskar Center is nothing more than a classroom with wobbly seats.
Try selling that to recruits who just saw what Oregon and Alabama have to offer. This investment doesn’t approach that level, but it’s a start.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1