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How the Big 12 is doing its best to keep up with SEC in facilities arms race

Even if they can't keep up on the BCS scoreboard, additions like Headington Hall and the Smith indoor facility are helping OU and OSU stay in the game.
By GINA MIZELL Modified: August 30, 2013 at 9:00 am •  Published: August 25, 2013

Even Mike Gundy knew about the dang waterfalls.

The ones that became a popular topic — thanks, largely, to an enthusiastic tweet from Norman North quarterback David Cornwell — during the dog days of the college football offseason.

Alabama had upgraded its football facilities, and four waterfalls flowing into a large pool were part of the revamp.

“I just heard it on the radio,” the Oklahoma State coach said during Big 12 Media Days last month. “It's new. Nobody else has it, so they put a waterfall in there.”

Constant facility additions and renovations are just another way college football's richest programs — particularly the ones from an SEC conference that has won seven consecutive national titles — can get richer and keep their hold on their monopoly over the rest of the sport's landscape.

Though the Big 12 is certainly doing its best to keep up in the arms race.

“It all works together,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione aid. “I think success allows (the SEC) to continue to construct facilities. Those schools that are pursuing success realize those that have succeed, they did something to help create that success. So they, in a sense, are feeling like a facility correlates with victories.

“It certainly plays a big role, but by itself, the facility doesn't win. It's the people that operate in the facility that lead to success.”

Sure, student-athlete development is the tangible purpose for state-of-the-art facilities. But arguably the most important “people” who set foot inside the fancy digs are recruits.

In an era where teenagers are swayed and wowed by sparkle and flash, facilities have become an important — no, completely necessary — way to hook prospective student-athletes into committing to a specific school.

First comes a tour of a plush football palace, then a look at the blueprints illustrating what's coming next. And the amenities can range from the practical (a weight room and hydrotherapy pools) to extravagant (a mini movie theater and billiards in a players' lounge) to the, well, peculiar (a mixed martial arts fighting cage).

“I know if I would have been somewhere and kind of looked around and been like, ‘Wait, this is it?'” OU offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said, “that would have been something that actually did matter to me. I don't know if it should…”

Added Khari Harding, the former Edmond Santa Fe star who's now a freshman at Auburn: “The facilities (I visited) — other than Oklahoma State's — were small. Auburn and Arkansas' were big. They had a lot of room in it. Kansas State was small and Texas Tech was small.”

So what's the message here? Keep building. Keep upgrading. Or fall way behind in recruiting. Which often means falling behind on Saturdays.

And get ready to spend Monopoly Money. Millions and millions.

OU and OSU both opened major pieces this summer in the Headington Hall athletic dorm (cost: $75 million) and the Sherman Smith Indoor Training Center ($19 million), respectively, to add to their already top-notch stadiums and football complexes. And several other programs around the Big 12 are on the same path.

Iowa State moved into a new 60,000-square-foot, $20.6 million complex earlier this year. Kansas State's Bill Snyder Family Stadium underwent a $75 million renovation to its west side that will debut this fall. Baylor's $250 million stadium along the Brazos River will open in 2014.

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