WVU may have won the battle for Henry, but according to those close to the program the Mountaineers more often than not lose out to regional rivals and conference mates with better facilities.
Last year a national marketing firm interviewed more than 150 of the nation’s top recruits to determine what factors were most important to them when selecting a school. Number one on their list was the academic reputation of the school. The second most important factor was the relationship between the coaching staff and the recruit. Coming in close third? Facilities.
Guess where West Virginia University is lacking? It’s not academics -- WVU rarely loses a recruit due to that factor. It’s not because WVU doesn’t have talented recruiters, either. That leaves the physical plant.
It’s not that WVU’s football facilities are particularly bad. They just don’t provide the recruiting advantage the Mountaineers need to compete with established programs that are pouring oceans of dollars into their infrastructure.
The all-important “wow” factor is missing. Nothing sets WVU apart from the host of other schools vying for the recruit. WVU needs facilities that make more than a good impression. They need facilities that set the standard for recruits as they hop about the country on official visits.
Some argue that Don Nehlen and Rich Rodriguez didn’t have elite-class facilities and they managed to recruit well. They forget that Nehlen’s Mountaineers enjoyed a distinct edge over the rest of the Big East in terms of quality of the facilities during most of his tenure at WVU.
By the time Rich Rodriguez took over for Nehlen the Big East was catching up. Rodriquez saw the need to keep WVU ahead of the pack and pushed for renovations. More often than not Rodriquez’ requests fell on deaf ears.
Rodriguez began to question WVU’s commitment to football and the “culture of no” he felt he encountered. That was at least one critical factor in his decision to leave WVU for Michigan.
The prospective student-athlete understands that quality programs have quality facilities. They understand that an institution’s commitment to athletics is apparent in their commitment to the buildings and structures in which their athletes train and perform.
Recruits visiting WVU only have a brief time to judge the program and determine if the Mountaineers are right fit for them. They naturally assess the state of facilities and compare them to what they have seen at other schools. The make a value judgment on the state and direction of the program based on what they see. The recruit may assume that if WVU’s facilities are lacking, then the program must be lacking.
The truth is that WVU can’t compete at a championship level without facilities of championship caliber.
Dana Holgorsen understands. He’s pushing for facilities improvements to at least bring WVU on par with the upper echelons of the Big 12.
"There's a list and I don't think I'm being unreasonable with the requests that I'm asking for," Holgorsen said near the end of this season. "And we're working hard on trying to get out there and raise the money that we need to raise to make some of this stuff a reality."
Holgorsen’s Christmas wish list in terms of facilities improvements is modest and doable. He started with a $2.6 million project to renovate a weight room that hadn’t been updated save for maintenance repairs in more than a decade.
Now the weight room boasts over 26,000 square feet and is a showpiece for the program that the Mountaineers believe will help recruiting efforts.
Next on Holgorsen’s agenda is a FieldTurf for the practice field and a new team auditorium with theatre seating. He claims that WVU is one of only a handful of schools that don't have the space to accommodate the entire team where all can see be seen in one location. Fund raising is already underway for the team auditorium. The athletic department will absorb the cost of the installing FieldTurf on the practice field.
But WVU can’t stop there if it intends to contend for the Big 12 title.
Holgorsen is on record about WVU’s outdated and inadequate Caperton Indoor Facility. "You've got to blow it up,'' Holgorsen said.
And he’s right. The only viable renovation plan for the indoor facility begins with razing it to the ground and building a new facility on an expanded footprint-one that includes enough space to practice all phases of the game safely. How much that would cost is being determined.
Even if WVU manages to raise the funds for the team auditorium and build a new indoor practice facility the Mountaineers will still be behind the rest of the Big 12.
Milan Puskar Stadium needs renovations to bring the venerable facility into the 21st centaury. On deck for is a new scoreboard courtesy of IMG and other cosmetic improvements to enhance the game day experience. Those include banners that sublimely merge sponsorship opportunities with great moments in Mountaineer history.
In the initial planning stages are renovations to the concourse area, the addition of suites and the viability of expanding the Puskar Center by adding a third floor.
The question is how will WVU pay for all these upgrades?
Certainly Big 12 money will help. WVU received $11 million as member of the Big 12 for the 2012 season even though the Mountaineers received only a half share of the $22 million conference disbursement. By the time WVU receives a full share of conference revenues in 2016 the Mountaineers are projected to be earning over $37 million excluding ticket sales, licensing revenues and bowl revenues.
However impressive those numbers are, they are not enough to support major capital projects.
State funding of renovations isn’t likely. West Virginia’s athletic department is self-supporting and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
The lack of state funding has hurt WVU in the past in regards to facilities and conference affiliation. According to sources within the program the Mountaineers bid to join the SEC was seriously undermined by the quality of the facilities and the lack of state money available to fund improvements. If the SEC thought it was problem how can it not be?
The most recent NCAA financial data on spending patterns among Division I schools show that the median allocation from institutions to subsidize their athletics program – regardless of subdivision – is about $10 million. Subsidies for all of Division I athletics rose by nearly $200 million compared to what they were 2011.
According to the U.S. Dept of Education Marshall received a subsidy of $14,477,976 whereas WVU received a subsidy of only $4,491,240.
WVU’s subsidy was on the books at $4.5 million -- that amount reflects student activity fees returned to WVU. In reality WVU’s total state subsidy for athletics was $0.
Personally it’s hard for me to understand how the state’s flagship university and the entity most closely identified with the state of West Virginia receives $10 million dollars less in direct athletic subsidies than Marshall.
Surely the Governor and the state legislature understand that WVU athletics is a prime economic engine for the region and the state. Aside from the economic impact of a winning program the intangible benefits derived more than justify increased state funding.
Yet the state’s economic and political climate make state funding of any WVU athletics project nearly impossible, and other creative funding mechanisms like Tax Increment Financing are just as unlikely.
WVU ’s only realistic funding options for the planned improvements is private donations.
Where does that leave West Virginia coming off a 4-8 season? The fear is a disgruntled fan base will vent their frustration by not renewing their season tickets and reducing their monetary support for WVU football.
I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope WVU’s supporters understand that life in the Big 12 is much more difficult than life in the Big East.
I hope they understand that the landscape of college football is changing. WVU is one of 65 major football programs and the amount of financial support received for these projects will go a long way in determining where in that hierarchy WVU resides in the years to come.