SBJ/December 25 - 31, 2006/This Weeks News

College hoops programs upgrade practice space

About a dozen NCAA Division I schools are planning or building extensive practice complexes for their basketball teams, creating a growing source of work for sports architects and adding a new weapon in the college facilities “arms race.”

A meeting room looks out over a practice
court at the University of Oklahoma.

“We’re bidding for three of them right now and two others in the next couple weeks,” Ellerbe Becket design director Jon Niemuth said last Monday. He confirmed major programs LSU and Michigan were among the schools collecting proposals. Iowa was preparing to issue a request for proposals.

HNTB project designer Gerardo Prado said such projects represent 5 percent to 10 percent of the firm’s business. “This percentage fluctuates and may increase in future years [because] we have completed multiple studies for these types of facilities for other clients,” he said.

The practice facilities are often connected to or built near on-campus arenas. New arenas at the universities of Virginia and Southern California include men’s and women’s practice facilities in the buildings.

The complexes offer round-the-clock court time for men’s and women’s basketball programs that struggle for practice time in their own busy arenas. Led by the University of Kentucky’s $30 million HNTB-designed Joe Craft Center, the most expensive such project to date, they also provide a shiny home base for programs to dangle in front of prospective recruits.

“We wanted the premier basketball practice facility in college athletics because that’s how we view our program,” said Rob Mullens, UK’s deputy associate athletic director.

Kentucky’s men had to travel off campus up to 10 times a season to practice when women’s home games and other events were booked at Memorial Coliseum, their practice home, Mullens said.

Plenty of practice
Among the universities planning or
building basketball practice facilities

Under construction
Southern Methodist

Fundraising or planning stages
Arizona State
Saint Louis*
Virginia Tech

* Part of planned arena
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

When the Wildcats men and women move into their 93,000-square-foot facility attached to the coliseum in January, each team will be able to practice free throws and 3-pointers on eight side courts without disrupting full-court scrimmages on the main courts.

Beyond merely a practice space, though, the building is designed to sell the program. Kentucky’s seven NCAA men’s championship trophies and a large graphic of sold-out Rupp Arena are two of the first things recruits see when they enter.

Downstairs at court level, six flat-screen televisions can form a single image or multiple pictures and deliver high-tech flash to catch the eye of teenagers growing up in the iPod age. The video room’s telestrator is a teaching tool.

Said Mullens: “It’s the modern ESPN Zone-Nike Town look.”

At Arizona State, where men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, wrestling and women’s gymnastics all compete at Wells Fargo Arena, HOK Sport was hired to design a basketball practice complex, said Stephen Ponder, ASU’s senior associate athletic director for development. The facility, which could cost $25 million to build, will be across the street from the arena.

Virginia Tech, where HOK did preliminary design work, is planning a $15 million to $18 million basketball practice building. Cassell Coliseum’s three gyms can accommodate most practice schedules, but athletic officials want to prove to recruits that they are serious about competing against the big boys in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“We have a wonderful reputation in football … and want to make a statement that basketball is pretty important, too,” said Tom Gabbard, associate director of athletics for internal affairs.

Virginia Tech is a prime example of the growing number of schools known primarily for football that have turned their attention to men’s basketball to upgrade those facilities, said Nate Appleman, an HOK project designer.

The bells and whistles would not be possible without cash from deep-pocketed alumni and sponsors. Kentucky alumnus Joe Craft doubled his initial donation to $6 million to have that building named for him.

The school plans to sell naming rights to donors for $2 million each for the men’s and women’s practice courts, Mullens said. That additional revenue could help the school pay off more quickly the $7 million in bonds sold to help finance construction.

The University of Oklahoma, among the handful of schools whose new facilities have served as benchmarks, sold naming rights that covered more than half the cost of its $17.1 million complex, said Larry Naifeh, executive associate athletic director.

Louisville-based fast-food restaurant company Yum! Brands is paying a reported $5 million over 20 years to name the University of Louisville’s new $15 million, 360 Architecture-designed practice facility.

For arms race observers, that complex will open in 2007, just a few months after in-state rival Kentucky moves into its own basketball palace.

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