Field of Their Own

Multi-use facilities have their plusses, but sometimes what a team really needs is a space of its own. Five universities talk about the benefits of not sharing.

By Greg Scholand

Greg Scholand is an Assistant Editor at Athletic Management.

Athletic Management, 16.6, October/November 2004,

Until recently, a big part of Rob Kollís job as Cornell Universityís Head Wrestling Coach was planning around the schedules of others. The teamís practice room was a multi-purpose area shared with classes in judo, boxing, tae kwon do, aerobics, and meditation. "Our guys couldnít work out for 85 percent of the day, and when we did get use of the room, it was dirty from the hundreds of people who had already been there," Koll says.

And when planning competitions, he had to schedule around the menís and womenís basketball teams. That often meant hosting matches in the early afternoon on weekdays or late at night after basketball gamesónot exactly prime times for attracting spectators.

So when a group of alumni interested in donating to his program asked how they could best help, Koll knew exactly what to tell them: "I said, a facility dedicated to wrestling is the thing we need to be more successful."

Today, more and more athletic programs are reaping the benefits of specialized, sport-specific venues. In this article, weíll profile several recently-completed or upcoming construction projects that focus on one sport, and highlight some of the benefits of getting specific with athletic facilities.

The new Friedman Wrestling Center, named for alumnus and former Cornell wrestler Stephen Friedman and his wife, the lead donors for the project, was completed in January of 2003. The countryís first stand-alone wrestling-specific facility, it provides for all the teamís needs in one building, from practice and competition space to a state-of-the-art weightroom, athletic training room, locker rooms, and even a student lounge and study area.

The centerpiece of the 15,000-square-foot facility, designed by architects from Cannon Design of Boston, is the wrestling room, a space large enough for four full wrestling mats when configured for everyday practice. The floor beneath the mats consists of a foam riser covered with plywood, a much softer surface than standard concrete or wood flooring. The room is spacious and bright, in contrast, Koll says, to what many people expect for a wrestling facility.

"When people think of wrestling rooms, they think of a dungeon underneath the locker rooms where the school had some space to roll out a mat," he says. "Thatís not what we were looking for. We wanted to incorporate as much natural light as possible throughout the whole space."

When Cornell hosts matches, the wrestling room converts into an arena, with retractable bleachers that surround the center mat on three sides. Each set of bleachers contains a section of premium chairback seats, and the total capacity is around 1,100ójust right for the teamís average match attendance.

"When we used to play in the basketball arena, it would feel cavernous, because wrestling doesnít draw the same size crowd as basketball," Koll says. "When we get a thousand people now, it feels like 10,000 because theyíre packed in so tight and up close to the mat."

Another exciting touch is the addition of special lighting during matches. "When we have competitions at night, we can turn off all the lights in the room, and we have a spotlight that shines on the center mat, like a boxing lamp," Koll explains. "And we have a fantastic sound system that we can really crank up to get the crowd into it.

"Thereís also a special viewing deck about 20 feet above the floor," he continues. "We used it last year when we had a match that was broadcast live over the Internet, and we wanted a viewing angle where there wouldnít be people walking in front of the camera. If we want to, we can even fit a TV crew up there."

As in the wrestling room, natural light was made a priority throughout the entire facility, extending to the weightroom and even into the locker rooms. "We know that seeing natural light can do a lot for your mood, and having so much of it really makes a difference," Koll says.

Recruits who visit the facility know theyíre seeing something that canít be found anywhere else, and Koll says its allure has already had an impact on the team. Cornellís recruiting classes in the past two years have been ranked higher than ever before, and he expects this yearís to be at or near the top nationwide. That influx of talent helped the Big Red win the Ivy League title and post an 11th-place finish at the NCAA Division I championships in 2004.

The primary advantage of the new facility, Koll believes, is having everything the wrestlers need in one place. "Now, they donít have to go to the library to study and then to the training room if they need to do some rehab, and then over to another building to lift, and then back to the wrestling room for practice," he says. "That can take hours off a kidís day. With what we have here, itís much easier for them to reach their goals, in the classroom and on the mats."

Since the menís soccer program was reinstated at Creighton University in 1990 after a five-year hiatus, the team has appeared in 12 consecutive NCAA Division I championship tournaments, making the Final Four three times in the last six years. During that time, they played home games at a public soccer field in a city park 15 miles from campus. "We began to think the time had come to move into a facility that suited the level of the program and reflected our success," says Bob Warming, Head Menís Soccer Coach.

When university administrators, led by president John Schlegel, unveiled a plan to expand Creightonís campus eastward into downtown Omaha, the soccer program got the opportunity it was looking for. "The university wanted to add an iconic building at the eastern border of its campus," Warming says. "And we were fortunate enough that a new soccer stadium was the right building at the right time."

In creating a soccer-specific facility, one of the first on a college campus, Creighton worked with architects from the Omaha-based DLR Group to focus on design features that soccer fans could identify with. "While we were in the planning stages, I went to Europe and toured a lot of smaller stadiums to get some ideas for how we could replicate the culture of the soccer stadiums there," Warming says. "A soccer stadium in the United States usually means aluminum bleachers and a field. We wanted to create a more European stadium atmosphere, but also pick up on the things in our own soccer culture that are important."

A prominent example of this can be found on the stadiumís east side, where five levels of artificial turf-covered terraces allow fans to bring their own seats. "In youth soccer here in the United States, which is typically how our kids started playing, the parents throw a bag chair over their shoulder, carry it out to the field, and set it up to watch the games," Warming explains. "Thatís the culture. We put up these rows of terraces so that people can bring a folding bag chair, or rent one from us, and watch the match the way theyíre used to. It honors our sportís culture, and it creates an inexpensive, fun way for a family to come and see a soccer game."

A facility designed just for soccer also maximizes home-field advantage, since fans arenít separated from the field by a jogging track or large sideline area. The student sections in Creightonís stadium were placed on the lowest level directly behind both goals, putting the loudest fans closer to the action and helping to create the more intimate, small-stadium feel that Warming says is a hallmark of European soccer venues. For other spectators, there are roughly 2,000 chairback seats protected from the weather by a large grandstand canopy. Suites are also available, including one large enough to host 120 people.

These features are important for creating the right atmosphere for athletes and fans, but the crown jewel of any new facility, Warming says, is its playing surface. Creightonís new stadium is the first in the United States to use a special artificial turf system developed exclusively for soccer.

"Itís a rubber infill system, but there are a lot more fibers than in other types of artificial turf, and the fibers are thicker, which makes it the best for socceróthe ball rolls great on it," Warming says. "And itís very natural looking. The fibers are actually three different colorsóbrown, light green, and dark greenóand they retain moisture just like blades of grass. People come by and see us watering the field and they think itís real."

Five years ago, the University of Denver opened the new Daniel L. Ritchie Center for Sports and Wellness, one of the largest multi-purpose athletics and recreation centers in the U.S. In addition to housing the Pioneer basketball and hockey teams, it includes an Olympic-size swimming pool, a six-court outdoor tennis pavilion, a huge fitness center, multi-purpose sport courts, and a two-story climbing wall.

While the center was under construction, the university built new lacrosse and soccer fields as well. "During that whole project, one of my dreams was that we would also eventually have a stadium dedicated to lacrosse, which would not only enhance our menís and womenís programs, but also foster the growth of lacrosse in the state of Colorado," says Dianne Murphy, Director of Athletics and Recreation at Denver. "Weíre now in the process of completing that dream."

This July, Denver broke ground on the Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, soon to be the countryís first stadium devoted solely to the sport of lacrosse. The $6 million project was made possible by a leadership gift from the widow of Peter Barton, a local businessman and longtime lacrosse enthusiast, and designed by architects at the university.

Scheduled for completion in time for the spring 2005 season, the stadium will contain permanent pre-cast concrete bench seating for up to 1,800 people, locker rooms for the menís and womenís teams, concessions stands and restrooms, and a new infill playing surface. It will also have a two-directional press box, open on both sides to serve the lacrosse stadium and the adjacent soccer field.

The new stadium will include elevated perches for television cameras, which will help expand broadcasting opportunities for the program. "We have broadcast our lacrosse matches before, but since we only had a field, we were using portable cameras at ground level," Murphy says. "This stadium will allow us to enhance our television coverage. We already broadcast locally, and we just entered into a partnership with Fox Sports, so weíll have the chance to give our teams even more exposure."

Murphy believes that having a new stadium devoted specifically to lacrosse will help develop the sport locally and nationally, something she says its namesake was passionate about. The Colorado Lacrosse Foundation, the stateís chapter of U.S. Lacrosse, will be housed in the stadium, and the Colorado Lacrosse Hall of Fame will be located in its conference room.

"This facility is not going to be used only by our varsity lacrosse programs, but also by lacrosse programs from all over the country," says Murphy, who will soon be leaving Denver to become the Athletic Director at Columbia University. "We plan to put on a lot of clinics and host high school tournaments and NCAA playoffs. We really see this as an opportunity to turn our campus into a center for lacrosse activity."

The Birck Boilermaker Golf Complex at Purdue University is already one of the premiere collegiate golf facilities in the country. In addition to its large practice facility that offers a driving range, pitching green, and multiple putting greens, it features two 18-hole courses that have played host to Big Ten championships and regional tournaments, and most recently the 2003 NCAA Division I womenís national championship.

Since 1996, Purdue has added over $8 million in improvements to the complex, making major upgrades to one of the courses, completely redesigning the other, and constructing a new clubhouse. This fall, the school is adding the final pieceóan 11,400-square-foot indoor facility that will offer Purdue golfers year-round practice opportunities and access to state-of-the-art training equipment.

"In our northern climate, the chances of being able to play golf outside from November to February are not very high," says Morgan Burke, Purdueís Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. "This facility will help us to deal with those winter months, allowing our golf teams to hone their skills when they canít be playing on our outdoor courses."

The new building, named the Tom Spurgeon Golf Training Center in honor of its lead donor, and designed by Keystone Architecture of Lafayette, Ind., will have all the standard amenities, including locker rooms for the menís and womenís teams, a pro shop, a playersí lounge, and offices for coaches. It will also offer some unique first-class training features, including an undulating chipping and putting green, among the first of its kind in the country. This roughly 4,000-square-foot practice area will have a hydraulically-adjustable floor, allowing golfers to simulate a variety of pitches and short-game situations.

"Usually, when a golfer starts playing again in February, itís the short game that is the most rusty," Burke explains. "With this adjustable surface, kids can practice indoors and still get some realistic looks at the kinds of challenges theyíll face outside."

For year-round driving practice, the center will be fitted with multiple heated hitting bays. "Right now, we have an artificial turf practice facility for football where you can hit into a net to work on your swing, but this will allow real driving," Burke says.

Another highlight of the new facility will be a swing analysis center that employs state-of-the-art video and computer technology to break down and help perfect a golferís swinging motion. The setup will have a virtual-reality component as well, allowing Purdue golfers to preview courses on which they will compete during the season.

Burke says the new facility adds the final component that makes the schoolís golf complex a comprehensive training environment. "I think when you can show that you have the combination of the indoor and outdoor facilities that are going to allow athletes to really improve their game, thatís the level of commitment they like to see," he says.

With field hockey and womenís lacrosse teams that have combined for 10 NCAA Division I national championships, Maryland was looking to provide both programs with a home of their own. The lacrosse team shared a field with the schoolís soccer teams, and field hockey used the football teamís practice area for competitionsóa site that didnít offer adequate seating for spectators and had dimensions and turf not ideal for field hockey. The athletic department found a solution in one structure that could serve both teams.

"Womenís lacrosse and field hockey really have similar needs when it comes to a facility. We tend to get similar-sized crowds, and you need essentially the same type of field for both sports, just with different lines," says Missy Meharg, Head Field Hockey Coach. "So we were in a good position to build a stadium that would work for both of us."

The new Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex at Maryland was designed by architects from The Lukmire Partnership of Lanham, Md., and Gaudreau, Inc. of Baltimore, and so far consists of seating for 1,200 fans and a building which houses a ticket office, concessions stands and restrooms, a storage area, and a pro shop. A second building, to be constructed next year and connected to the first by a concourse plaza, will include home and away locker rooms, an officialsí locker room, an athletic training room, and team lounges offering amenities such as wireless Internet access and a kitchen.

The playing surface is also in place, a synthetic turf field with permanent sewn-in lines and dark green boundaries that contrast with its light green playing area. The surface is water-based and made of nylon-knit, two characteristics that Meharg says make it ideal for her sport.

"Without a doubt, the best way to play field hockey is on a water-based field. The base is asphalt, and on top of that we put a 3/8-inch porous pad. When that gets wet, it keeps the back of the carpet wet, which makes it great for keeping the ball down and preventing injuries," she says. "And we chose a nylon-knit turf because itís much more plush and forgiving than the polypropylene we played on before."

The field is surrounded on three sides by trees, a feature that Meharg points to as one of her athletesí favorite aspects of the facility. "When you step onto this field, it feels separate from the rest of campus, which is made up mostly of brick buildings and open space," she says. "With the trees all around, they can feel removed from academic and social life, and in a beautiful athletic setting. Thatís something that my team really loves."

While it may insulate them from the rest of campus, the complex doesnít isolate the teams from the athletic department. The site is adjacent to Marylandís softball stadium and the Comcast Center, home to the athletics administration and the basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and wrestling teams, as well as offices for Meharg and many other coaches. And like all Terrapin programs, the field hockey and lacrosse teams will still use the Comcast Center for academic support services and department meetings.

With a facility engineered specifically to meet the needs of field hockey, Marylandís new stadium has garnered attention from around the country. Meharg says that since it opened last year, she has been asked to serve as a consultant for several other college programs looking to upgrade their field hockey venues. And this past spring, the under-21 national team used the field as a training site. "They were really impressed with the quality of our field and the way it plays," she says. "And we were excited to have the chance to host such high-level players."