Vanderbilt athletics officials and coaches attempted Tuesday to drive a stake through the notion that their school isn’t committed to winning in perhaps the most competitive conference in the nation.
Plans for a five-year, $55 million upgrade of athletics facilities were unveiled during a morning news conference. Phase I, which focuses heavily on cosmetic improvements to the football stadium, is already under way.
John Ingram, Chair of the Board of Trust athletics committee, joked that Vanderbilt was once regarded as “lovable losers.”
By keeping in step with its Southeastern Conference brethren, VU hopes to sound a clarion call of seriousness.
“We’re in a little bit of an arms race with this,” basketball coach Kevin Stallings said. “Our administration decided we’re not going to be left behind.”
Vice Chancellor David Williams, who oversees Vanderbilt athletics, described the upgrades as a “self-funded project” that will require the school to raise $55 million through mostly private donations.
“We’ve got a lot of money to still raise,” Williams said. “We’re going to get it done. I’m enthusiastically hopeful that we’re going to raise the $55 million.”
Phase I began in April and will include several improvements to Vanderbilt Stadium, including the addition brick walls around the lower portion of the exterior that will resemble the appearance of Hawkins Field, the school’s baseball stadium.
Men’s and women’s basketball locker rooms are being expanded at Memorial Gymnasium. A new basketball floor will be installed, and a suspension system, designed to create more cushion, will be put in under the floor to replacing the existing concrete.
In addition, new seating is being added at Hawkins Field that will push capacity to nearly 3,700. A new football practice field is being installed at the John Rich Practice Facility.
Williams said phases two through five will be launched over the coming years in a sequence designed not to interrupt various athletics seasons.
Commodores football coach Bobby Johnson has never made secret of his desire for beautification of Vanderbilt Stadium. Most of the new brick and other improvements will be in place before the 2008 season.
“I think the design is fantastic,” Johnson said. “We’ve got everything an athlete could need. I think it’s going to help our program a great deal.”
It might be of particular help to Johnson in recruiting.
“What you show everybody is that stadium,” he said. “It was important to have something done before the season started. That was huge.”
Vanderbilt women’s basketball coach Melanie Balcomb said the new locker rooms and players’ lounges at Memorial Gym will help her program “stay current.”
“The facilities we see on the road are phenomenal,” she said. “We’re going to be able to match that. We’ve been telling our recruits about our facilities and will continue to do so.”
Added Stallings: “Our locker rooms here, quite frankly, were inadequate and insufficient. It’s the only thing that didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor.”
Ingram said an increased emphasis on athletics at Vanderbilt began in 2003, when former Chancellor Gordon Gee reorganized the athletics department, chopping the need for a traditional athletics director, and calling for a “revolution” in intercollegiate athletics.
Since then, coincidentally or not, the men’s basketball has twice appeared in the NCAA Sweet 16, the baseball team has been ranked No. 1 nationally, the football team has won more games in a three-year span than any at the school since the 1990s, and the women’s basketball program has remained an annual NCAA Tournament participant.
The current facilities project is a commitment to even more success, Ingram said.
“It’s a testament to the coaches that we want them to win championships, and we’re willing to step up to help them get there,” he said. “Building facilities is no guarantee of great success, but it certainly is going to give us a chance.
“We have a lot of work to do and a lot of money to raise, but I know this: People like to be part of winners.”
Vanderbilt Construction Project
Phase I: $11 million-$12 million
• Memorial Gym basketball locker rooms
• Vanderbilt Stadium facility renovation:
Work will include a new exterior stadium facade between Gates 2 and 3; renovation of the eastside stadium concourse; and exterior/interior paint and interior signage to stadium press box/suite tower
• Hawkins Field expansion: $3 million-$3.3 million
• Football synthetic surfaces at John Rich Practice Facility and Wedgewood Recreation Field: $2 million
Phase II: $11 million-$12 million
• McGugin Center renovation:
Work will include construction of the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame, renovation of position and team meeting rooms for football, and renovation of the athletic training room.
• Vanderbilt Stadium renovation:
Work will include rebuilding of Gates 2 and 3; exterior facade along Natchez Trace; and development of a plaza in front of Gate 2.
Phase III: $7 million-$8 million
• Vanderbilt Stadium:
Plans call for the renovation of gates 1 and 4 in north end zone of stadium along with construction of plaza area.
• McGugin Center:
First phase of renovation to support staff of Stratton Foster Academic Center area, and renovation to football coaches' offices, support staff offices and coaches’ locker rooms.
Phase IV: $16 million-$18 million
• Vanderbilt Stadium:
Work will include construction of north end zone building and seating; addition of synthetic turf in stadium.
• McGugin Center:
Renovation of the football locker rooms, equipment rooms, and athletic training room; Olympic sport locker rooms and meeting rooms will be constructed on second floor.
Phase V: $1 million-$2 million
• McGugin Center:
Renovation and expansion of Hendrix Room dining facility; addition of offices and suites.