MORGANTOWN — If there is anything wrong with college athletics it is that it is — and always has been, really — far more about athletics than college.
In the modern era, this displays itself less with academic rules bending, for there is a process in place to address that. Really, however, it is overwhelmed by the job that lies before it in the sheer number of schools and athletes being policed that it is almost fully dependent upon self-policing.
But the emphasis on athletics has instead induced a period not unlike that at the height of the Greek and Roman Empires when we saw the Parthenon, the Roman Coliseum and the Pantheon constructed. Campuses across America are involved in an athletic construction boom aimed not at drawing Rhodes Scholars to campus, but instead to bring in Heisman Trophy winners.
And it must be the right idea, for the games the schools play are ever enriching, if not to the college’s bottom line, then to the bottom line of the athletic department and those who run it.
West Virginia, of course, has scratched its athletic itch by finding ways, sometimes quite unique in their approach to create Roman-like structures for its athletes, be it a basketball practice facility, a new track facility, a baseball diamond shared with a minor league team, an aquatic center to go with a soccer building and stadium, a gymnastics building and a wrestling building.
The football facility, which produces the most revenue, has certainly got the biggest facelift within the stadium and the team nerve center known as the Puskar Center in this never-ceasing effort to keep up with the Jones and Pickens or Texas and Oklahoma and all across Big 12 country. Shane Lyons, the maestro of this architectural renaissance, had labeled WVU’s facilities at the bottom of the Big 12 as he picked up where Oliver Luck left off in bringing WVU into this race for structural grandeur.
The interior of the Coliseum has been configured for comfort and profit, the floor is being redone, the football stadium is a constant ongoing project that has brought giant video boards into the stadium, oddly to help attract fans who seem quite content and far more comfortable sitting at home with a 70-inch TV screen to watch events without spending $8 for a beer.
It is the game within the game, with the prize being donations and ticket sales, a bottomless pit of TV money, jersey sales and it all seems to rest upon alluring athletes to your campus and that is done with a smile and facilities that are judged from training table to training room to weight room to uniforms to conference affiliation.
It is a game of bells and whistles, and part of it now is also an indoor football facility.
Now I suspect the great Sam Huff learned his football not only without an indoor football facility but, quite possibly, without an indoor bathroom facility. But that did not block his root to the Hall of Fame.
That was then, this is now and while WVU has had an indoor facility for a number of years now, it has not been a very big part of the recruiting tour for athletes or, for that matter, of the making of the football team. Former coach Dana Holgorsen quite openly was hostile about the facility, upset that at 80 yards it wasn’t big enough for a regulation field and that its height didn’t allow punting to be done there.
If you drive by the facility today you see what seems to be major reconstruction in progress.
“You’ll see a lot of changes in the next three months,” Lyons said recently of the facility. “We are in the process of changing the turf in the indoor facility.”
The turf has always been a problem there.
“I visited the Aquatic Center and there was a big cement pond with no water and walk into the Indoor Practice Facility and there’s holes filled with water,” Lyons said, turning it into a joke by adding, “I’m thinking, it’s kind of backward here.
Lyons says there’s a pyrite problem at the center of this and that is being addressed, while at the same time they are doing some superficial work on the building.
“We are going to add some paint and changing the graphics in there. It just hasn’t been taken care of,” he said, which one might take as a broadside at Holgorsen’s approach to the building.
“We’ll dress it up and it won’t be a matter of putting lipstick on a pig. I think it will be just as good as anywhere.” Unfortunately, it will still be 80 yards long due to the available real estate and it isn’t going to get any higher.
“I get the question it’s only 80 yards but my answer to that is I don’t see a lot of 100-yard football plays,” Lyons said.
And then he added the one thing that said you have to know about the over indulgence into this construction race.
“We only use that in necessary times. It’s good for that, but it’s not our primary practice area.”
In other words, it really isn’t very important ... yet its getting a lot of attention, sort of like false eyelashes on a fashion model.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.