The arms race in NCAA big-time football is alive and well.

The players who generate the huge television contracts and gate receipts that drive college football revenue through the roof may not be able to participate in that marketplace, but at least at the schools currently ranked #1 and #2 in the polls, those players will have little to complain about in terms of where they spend their football-related time on campus.

Check out the University of Alabama’s new facility for football. After all, when you rule the college football world your guys deserve the best.

But wait. Check out the University of Oregon’s new facility (and see this for a tour), paid for by Phil Knight of Nike at a reported cost of 78 million dollars. I’m not sure I knew where or what Nepal was when I was a senior in high school, but presumably the Oregon coaches will emphasize to recruits that, as the linked article notes, the rugs in Oregon’s football facility were hand-woven in Nepal.

It is inevitable that other universities will follow in their footsteps. But should they?

On the one hand, we all get that it would be wonderful if every university had updated buildings and classrooms and a happy faculty. But on the other hand, whose chemistry department is as sexy as its football team? What head of the philosophy department is as recognizable locally (much less nationally) as that university’s head football coach?

In an age where MOOCs are increasingly thought to be the trend in higher education, what activity has the ability to bring hundreds of thousands of alums and supporters in person onto campus and into the local shops and stores for several weekends each year? Yes, that would be football.

So while it is easy to decry the arms race in football facilities, the fact is, the big-boy football schools need big boys in order to win. As an NCAA investigator, I would often ask top recruits what they were looking for in a college. Typically, they would first give me the rehearsed answer about how academics are key, but as we developed a relationship they would amend that answer. The most cited factors, in no particular order, were the color and design of the uniforms, the number of televised games, the facilities, the number of alums playing professional ball, and the pretty-girl component.

Football recruits at big-time football programs typically are not fully-formed renaissance men. Of course, there are exceptions (I hear you, Stanford fans.) What better recruiting edge to provide your program than a Taj Mahal to impress recruits? A cynic might suggest that these young men will never again experience such a privileged existence in life after they are done playing college football, and might wonder if the pampered treatment of athletes sends a skewed message about the relative importance of athletics and academics.   A realist might suggest that institutions must make their own decisions about what is in their best long-term interests, and if that means a football castle on every campus, so be it.

What do you think? Those of you who went to big-time football schools, do you want your alma mater to participate in the football facility arms race? For those of us who have children at big-time football schools (or schools that hope to attain that status) do you welcome increased student fees to help cover athletics-related expenses?

Or is it time for us all to simply acknowledge that the train has long since left the station on this? After all, where else should the hand-woven rugs in your football facility come from if not Nepal?

I welcome your thoughts at mgilleran@scu.edu. Thanks.

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