'A game we have to play:' AFA football catching up with $16 million indoor site

FRANK SCHWAB Updated: August 23, 2010 at 12:00 am • Published: August 23, 2010

At Mountain West Conference media days last month, commissioner Craig Thompson said member schools had to be smart about spending, especially in tough economic times.

Thompson is well aware that building and expanding new practice sites doesn’t fit into his message about fiscal responsibility. He said the Mountain West has committed roughly $800 million on facilities the past 11 years.

Although Thompson wonders how member schools will keep producing revenue for facilities, he won’t tell them to cut back.

“It’s a game we have to play,” Thompson said.

Without sparkling facilities, teams don’t believe they can stay competitive in big-time college football, particularly in recruiting. And no conference is going to be the first to cut out spending for new facilities.

Air Force is the only service academy and one of two teams in the Mountain West without an indoor practice center. That will change in the next year after Air Force gets the congressional notification it needs to start building a privately funded indoor training facility. The notification is basically a formality, and once it’s in hand, groundbreaking can begin. The $16 million facility, which will have about a 94,000-square-foot interior, according to the academy, will take about six to eight months to complete.

The center has become a big deal for Air Force. Officials are excited about the project and can’t wait until it officially gets started.

Colorado State was similarly giddy waiting for its indoor facility to open last year. Coach Steve Fairchild laments that Colorado State missed an opportunity to capitalize on what the program accomplished in the late 1990s, partially because the Rams were slow to build facilities to keep up with the rest of the conference.

“No. 1, you can’t recruit to it. No. 2, what type of message does that send to people out there?” Fairchild said about lacking a top-notch indoor facility. “I come in and say, ‘Look what we’re going to do. Look how important this is to our program. This is where we’re going.’ It’s an important part.”

Premier facilities have non-recruiting benefits. Air Force holds offseason practices in the winter, and it might have more productive practices indoors. Air Force’s current indoor track facilities are small, and the team has to split up most of practice, with the offense working out while the defense has meetings and vice versa. Fairchild said it was beneficial in the offseason that his top two quarterbacks could be on the same throwing schedule regardless of the weather.

Utah got a huge boost to its facilities when the 2002 Olympics were in Salt Lake City. Now, the Utes are on their way to the Pac-10.

“Recruits look at facilities and want the shiny, new weight rooms and new buildings, and you have to keep up,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It’s always evolving. It’s never done. You’re always upgrading and looking for expansion.

“Do you need a 50,000-square-foot weight room to work out in when you can do it in 10,000 square feet? It’s a display and show of how committed you are.”

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