I've touched on this a few times before, but the current college football landscape is vastly different today than it was 5-10 years ago.
There used to be a time where college prospects were thrilled to get a letter from a Power 5 program that was interested in their services. Sure there was competition for the nation's top players, but it was still treated as an honor to just be considered. The schools picked their players — not the other way around.
With the internet, social media — and the all-time high pressure for Power 5 coaches to produce a winning product — the college football recruiting process has changed dramatically. The best high school players are courted and treated like superstars before they ever suit up in a NCAA game.
Instead of selling a recruit on the top-tier academics, campus life or a proven coaching staff — college football programs across the country are pulling out all stops to wow these 16-20 year-olds with things they identify with the most.
We saw it at Clemson back in January, when the new national champs unveiled their shiny new $55 million football facility complete with an indoor slide, barber shop, mini golf course, laser tag, bowling alley, golf simulator and an outdoor village that features a oversized screen for movies, a covered basketball court and resort-style kitchen and a fire pit.
Does that sound like something Bear Bryant would have made a priority in lose legendary times from 1958-1982 at Alabama? Probably not.
And let's not forget Texas, who added state-of-the-art lockers ($10,500 a piece) to its already impressive football facility in April after Tom Herman took the reigns.
"The last I checked, Clemson's brand new state-of-the-art facility wasn't cheap, and Oklahoma's brand new renovation wasn't cheap, so to have the best in the country, it costs money," Herman told Dallas Sports News. "In order to recruit the best players and give your players the best training facilities in the country, you've got to have the best facilities in the country, and that costs money."
For programs like Texas, Clemson, Oklahoma and Alabama — this is the norm. They are the class of the FBS and have loyal alumni bases with big pockets to add to the mountain of cash that is generated from television deals and of course… winning.
But what about the teams that have struggled as of late? Is a shiny new practice facility the secret to turning the tide?
Kansas and Virginia — two programs with a combined 25-95 record over the last five college football seasons — have major plans in store to upgrade their respective facilities with hopes to land better recruits and rewrite the narrative.
Late last week, the Kansas athletic department announced it was planning a $300 million renovation of Memorial Stadium that will also include a an indoor practice facility. The Jayhawks unveiled a state-of-the-art locker room in 2016, but this shows long-term dedication to improving the struggling program.
"It will be something that will be just that next step in transcending our program to the next level," Kansas head football coach Dave Beaty told NBC Sports. "We really do have to keep up with the facility war that goes on out there."
Meanwhile in Charlottesville Va., the UVA brass just got the green light for funding for a $55-60 million dollar football operations center, that is supposed to feature "all of the necessites and amenities a college football player would want," according to Jerry Radcliffe of the Cavalier Insider.
Sure, winning would be a step in the right direction, but how do you win when you aren't even in contention for the nation's top prospects? These two programs hope their massive investments in facilities will help change that.
It's clear that great coaching and a beautiful campus is no longer at the forefront of college football recruiting. The bottom-feeders are looking at the big boys and following their mold. Either hop on, or get left behind.
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