What do you build when money and space are no objects? Well, if youre Derek Dooley, you put an octagonal MMA cage in your team weight room: so we can go in and fight and all that stuff, the Tennessee Volunteers head coach said.
Its hard to know if Dooley was serious. Surely, he wont lock a couple of linemen in the cage with instructions to choke each other out. But, given that the new, gargantuan athletic football facility at Tennessee would likely leave Caligula green with envy, anythings possible.
The place wont open until June, but Dooley is already showing people around. While giving a tour of the 145,000-square-foot, 45 million facility to the Knoxville News Sentinel, Dooley said he only wanted to hear one word from anyone who walked through the doors.
If they don't go wow, then we havent done our job, Dooley said. There should be no other comment except wow. That was the only standard I had.
According to all who have seen it, the building succeeds on that front. There is a restaurant not far from the 7,000 square-foot locker room, which, itself, has 125 lockers with iPod and cell phone charging capabilities along with plenty of room for guys to change clothes without feeling uncomfortably close to their teammates.
Then there is a 3,600-square-foot hydrotherapy room with two hot tubs, two underwater treadmills, and a 40-foot lap pool in addition to a cascading water entryway that looks like the casino lobby at Atlantis.
From there its a quick hop to the team meeting room, a 165-seat amphitheater with custom-designed cushioned chairs and high-definition movie screen.
There are offices, and other meeting rooms where position coaches can gather their player in luxurious comfort. And there is a 120-yard practice field under roof, which is, in turn, just a few steps from the 22,000-square-foot weight room with high ceilings, the latest equipment, a juice bar, and, of course, an Ultimate Fighting cage complete with canvas and door latches (Ring Girls come separately).
There wont be one nicer in the country, Dooley told the News Sentinel. This building will impact our program more than the stadium. This is where the players live.
Is it over the top? Of course it is: outrageously so if you consider rising tuition costs nationwide and the budget crises affecting many state institutions. But college football is in a facilities arms race with mutual assured destruction as the only deterrent.
Its hard to know where it started, but Oregon is as good a bet as any. When Phil Knight and Nike poured untold millions into the Ducks facilities creating a Taj Mahal team facility that included a player lounge with leather recliners and high-def televisions the Spartan days of white pressboard lockers and one metal hot tub were history.
Then T. Boone Pickens poured 460 million in Oklahoma State, building facilities that became the envy of college football.
Those projects might have been written off as hubris if not for one unassailable fact: both teams started winning. The Ducks and the Cowboys went from so-so programs to national powerhouses in just a few short years.
That set the current arms race into motion, with schools all over the country doing everything in their power to build Wow into their infrastructure.
The Vols are just the latest.
Tennessee got behind, Dooley said. We did some great things with our stadium, but where the players live ... we didn't have what we needed.
In June, they will have everything they need, and much, much more.