Division II football recruiting looks to facilities

Among the arms races that most influence college football recruiting, the quest to build the newest and the swankiest facilities has become one of the most crucial. Like anyone else, student-athletes seek comfort, and colleges have done their best to provide, from the barbershop in the University of Oregon football facility to the waterfall and bank of high-definition televisions in Ohio State’s locker room.

In his travels over last summer, University of Charleston football coach Pat Kirkland was reminded that the battle for the best facilities isn’t reserved solely for the sport’s titans.

“I went around this summer to look at other Division II facilities, and you’d be amazed at what I saw, he said. “I saw schools with indoor facilities and weight rooms that look like the size of gymnasiums. It’s a big deal.

And it’s a big deal to both UC and West Virginia State, both of which had new facilities to tout in the months leading up to today’s National Signing Day. For the Yellow Jackets, it’s what already is here – the $3.5 million Monroe Athletic Complex which opened in March 2015. For the Golden Eagles, it’s what is to come – the $15.5 million Wehrle Innovation Center, which will be the UC athletic program’s new home beginning this fall.

Premium facilities make up just one of the tools in the two programs’ recruiting boxes, but even at the Division II level, it’s a very important one for both Kirkland and WVSU coach Jon Anderson to use.

No football recruiting visit at West Virginia State is complete without an extensive tour of the Monroe Complex, a building that Anderson said is a powerful foot in the door of many recruits’ homes.

“It’s an attention-getter, Anderson said. “It gets us in the home and gives us the ability to get kids to visit the campus. And we utilize it as that.

When they arrive, recruits find solid-white oak lockers, meeting rooms with large flat-screen TVs to view game film, and other amenities. Anderson enjoys guiding those tours and watching recruits eyes widen as they see what could be available to them if they choose to sign with the Yellow Jackets.

“Especially in the locker room and weight room, Anderson said. “They’ve all seen the pictures and made their game-day visits. But to see it through the eyes of this could be my home for the next four or five years, you start to see the wheels turn and things get going in their heads. It’s fun to see.

When recruits arrive at UC, they don’t yet have a chance to tour the under-construction Wehrle Center, but Kirkland shows each recruit the schematics of the new building and a video depicting what they can expect from the new digs. It won’t be a football-only facility, but the football team will get plenty of use out of it.

The Wehrle Center will house the football coaches’ offices. It will include video rooms where players can go over game film without scrambling to find an open classroom on campus. It also will have an indoor track the team can use for offseason conditioning.

It’s the months outside of football season where the Wehrle Center will help the most, Kirkland said.

“Now we have a facility in the offseason that’s more than anything we’ve ever had here, he said. “This is a big positive.

Such construction can be an even bigger deal at the Division II level, where athletic department revenues don’t reach the nine-figure levels of juggernauts like Oregon, Texas or Michigan. The donor bases at smaller schools don’t reach as far or wide, and pockets aren’t always as deep, so athletic departments at that level must balance pie-in-the-sky thinking with pragmatism.

“You’ve got to make smart decisions with what resources you have, Anderson said. “Every individual institution has its own donor base and its own circumstances. You just have to make well-informed decisions and not overextend yourself. Universities understand strong athletic programs bring a lot to a university as far as enrollment, school spirit and alumni interaction. It think it comes down to you have only so many resources, so you have to be smart, because you have to take care of other things.

Facilities like the Monroe Complex and Wehrle Center take care of a major factor in the recruiting process. They offer tangible evidence of the commitment Division II schools will make to not just the football program, but the athletic program as a whole.

That evidence can be what convinces not only the student-athlete, but his parents, too, that the program is serious about the future.

“They want to see how this place will make them a better student-athlete, Kirkland said. “And when you show them this is the commitment that we’re making to facilities we’re incorporating onto our campus, it’s huge. In recruitment, whether it’s a student or a student-athlete, it’s huge.

As important as facilities have become in recruiting battles throughout college athletics, they’re not the only weapon in the arsenal. Kirkland and Anderson both said there are plenty of bright spots to tout.

The Yellow Jackets can showcase their improvement from a winless 2013 to flirting with a winning record in 2015. The Golden Eagles can promote their first NCAA playoff appearance last season.

“At the end of the day, there has to be something more than flashy facilities, Anderson said. “That’s where I think our coaching staff and program really takes over. It draws people in, without a doubt, but there’s got to be substance behind the facilities.- by Derek Redd, Charleston Gazette-Mail