New facilities & plans for renovations, both in and out of the Big 12 Conference, popping up at a rapid rate

Kansas athletic director Travis Goff greets members of the football team with fist bumps as they head to the locker room prior to kickoff against South Dakota on Friday, Sept. 4, 2021 outside the Anderson Family Football Complex. (Photo by Nick Krug/Special to the Journal-World)

For at least the past few decades, and probably a lot longer, college athletics — particularly football — has been more or less defined by a facilities arms race.

Bigger, better, nicer, newer has been the currency for national relevance and a requirement for competitive programs. And coaches, athletic directors and big money donors have worked hard to make sure their universities can keep up.

The toughest part about the facilities arms race is that the minute you open a new building or stadium it starts getting old. There’s always another school building something, and those somethings often fall in line with the bigger, better, nicer, newer mantra.

As the University of Kansas continues to search for ways to address a much-needed overhaul of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium — and, at this point, it’s a matter of when not if — the powers that be at KU are suddenly seeing other programs collecting shiny new things all around them.

San Diego State’s opening a new $310 million stadium this season. Boise State recently announced an athletic facilities master plan totaling more than $300 million — $129.4 million of which is going to the Broncos’ football stadium. And UAB opened its brand new, $175 million stadium last season.

Those are just three of the smaller-profile programs who currently reside outside of the Power 5. But there are other moves — big ones — that hit even closer to home.

You might recall that Texas Tech recently announced its new $200 million stadium project, and, just last week, Big 12 newcomers-to-be BYU and Central Florida announced new projects for the near future, as well.

BYU’s project at LaVell Edwards Stadium is designed to enhance the gameday experience for fans. It features three major elements — a sponsor hospitality area, a champions terrace and the gridiron grill — that are expected to be ready for the upcoming season. And in 2023, upgrades to the sponsor hospitality area, Club 22, will include booth seating, a fireplace and a candy wall. A freakin’ candy wall!

“The game is still the main attraction, but how people experience the game at the stadium has evolved,” said BYU associate athletic director for corporate sponsorships, Casey Stauffer, in a news release announcing the plans. “We don’t want to just deliver a product. We want to offer an experience.”

UCF’s football stadium upgrades, which are part of a bigger campus-wide improvement initiative in Orlando, now have an architect, with the school announcing the selection of AECOM Technical Services, Inc., for its $125 million football renovation project.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Knights’ upcoming project will include the construction of a south tower as well as the addition of more seating on the north side of the stadium; renovations to the Wayne Densch Sports Center and relocation of UCF’s practice field.

And that’s to say nothing of the massive collectives announced by Texas Tech and SMU. Tech’s Matador Club is slated to pay every TTU football player $25,000 annually. And, at SMU, the Boulevard Collective will pay SMU basketball and football players $36,000 per year, totaling $3.5 million annually.

There’s also the state-of-the-art football practice facility that just went up at Florida. Granted, that’s tradition-rich Florida, but the Gators did go just 14-11 during the past two seasons and have a 4-7 blemish on their record as recently as 2017.

We’ve officially reached the point where the state of your facilities is a better indicator of the health of your program than wins and losses.

And none of this is new to Kansas. Remember 2008, when KU was fresh off of its Orange Bowl championship? Of course you do. Besides all of the euphoric memories and cool gear you collected, do you remember what else that win delivered?

The Anderson Family Football Complex.

Just like that, KU was a part of the cool crowd and the envy of much of college football. There was a time when KU’s football building was among the nicest in the country. And it’s still a very nice building. But it’s old and getting older, and the program is starting to outgrow it, as well.

For a little perspective, consider this: Florida’s new facility is a 142,000-square-foot, $85 million training center. KU’s football complex cost $33 million in 2008 ($46 million today when adjusted for inflation) and covers 80,000 square feet.

Kansas football needing more is a good thing, by the way. Because it shows a certain level of commitment from the university to the football program already exists. After all, if Kansas football wasn’t adding staff members and creating plans for bigger and better production in all aspects of the program, more space would not be needed.

All of the improvements, both taking place around the country and being dreamed up at KU, are designed to enhance the fan experience and attract talent to the schools. KU is eager to do both.

One of the biggest issues currently facing KU is the scope of what’s needed. The stadium needs to be redone yesterday. The football facility is aging, now 14 years old and counting. And the creation of a collective that keeps KU on the front lines popped up as a critical piece of the equation seemingly overnight.

To address all of that at once would be incredibly difficult. And that could be part of the reason that nothing official has been announced or started yet. But it’s coming.

KU officials know too well how important all of this is, so it has to be. The fact that so many programs around them are announcing big moves by the week is simply another reminder that KU will have to do something in the near future.


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