So while Alabama still sets the SEC facilities standard — it's home to what's believed to be the largest weight room (34,000 square feet, upgraded for $9 million earlier this year) and indoor practice facility (97,000 square feet renovated in 2009) and the fifth-largest stadium in the nation (101,821 seats, expanded in 2010) — what makes SEC facilities superior to the Big 12 and every other conference, experts say, is the excellence across the board.
“That isn't to say when you go to Oklahoma, Texas or any of the other big schools in other conferences you don't see it,” said Tim Brando, a CBS college football analyst who grew up in Louisiana and has covered the SEC for decades, “but once you get past that first tier and you start looking at the second tier of these conferences that are considered power conferences, there is a noticeable difference in what environments at the games are and in what the facilities are.
“The truth is, the SEC has got consistency with its facilities, even with the so-called smaller schools in the less-populated areas. If you go to Oxford, it's just fantastic at Ole Miss. If you go to Starkville, you go, ‘Wow. My goodness.'”
Perhaps that perception is slightly off-base. After all, Alabama visited OSU to get ideas for its recent facilities upgrades, while seven Tennessee representatives toured Headington Hall last month.
But there's no denying the SEC facilities are pristine. And it's generally wise to keep an eye on the competition.
Castiglione stressed that foresight and planning are crucial to building facilities.
He knew a new athletic residence hall was needed when he arrived in Norman in 1998. But he also knew it was important to prioritize and assess, rather than toss out boatloads of cash for a quick fix that could possibly cause OU to spend more money in the long run.
“When we were in the discussion stages,” Castiglione said, “we thought, ‘We have to do an assessment of what students are going to want in a living experience 15, 20, 25 years from now. Because we're not going to be able to do this again.'”
But maintaining facilities is just as important as building them.
Think about the cell phones that were popular in 2009. That's the year OSU opened its glittering West End Zone. If OSU doesn't keep refreshing what's inside, a kid who has an iPhone 5 but already wants an upgrade could conclude that the Cowboy facilities are already ancient.
“If you don't do something in eight years, you're back to everybody's talking about your facility not being very good,” Gundy said. “That's just the way it is.”
And the SEC sure is not stopping, with Texas A&M, LSU and even Kentucky in the early planning or construction phases of stadium expansion projects. Plenty other renovations across the conference are sure to come.
No word on if waterfalls will be included.
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