I’ve actually been making that argument for years, in the workshops that we conduct on campuses, and with the clients we work with on a daily basis.
But, understandably, not everyone buys in to that idea. I’m one guy. And, yes, I’ve got research and focus group studies we’ve done, and lots of anecdotal stories to make my point, but coaches will commonly counter with their own anecdotal stories of that one time a prospect talked about how much they loved their college’s facilities (or how much other prospects thought somebody else’s facilities were better as the reason they chose a competitor).
The result? Colleges spend big on athletic facilities. Even smaller schools have spent the past two decades ramping up their investment in mini-D1 stadiums, weight rooms, and other athletic-centered areas.
But now, in addition to my anecdotal stories and focus group studies, we have a broader study conducted recently that draws the same conclusion: Spending more on athletic facilities doesn’t result in better recruits coming to your campus.
I don’t really need to elaborate or drive home the point further, because it stands on it’s own. Facts are facts. That being said, I do want to offer some deeper explanation for coaches to consider as it relates to facilities, recruiting, and how you should view it all in the context of improving your program:
- I’m not suggesting that facilities aren’t important. Of course they are. Safety, functionality, increased revenue opportunities for a college athletic department…all of those are true for schools that open newer, modern athletic facilities on a college campus. Plus, your fans and boosters may consider it important, as well as the student body who wants to take pride in their school. Athletics are often consider the ‘front porch’ to a college, and what that front porch looks like for the people in the campus’ family is a source of pride.
- But it’s mostly important for the people in the campus’ family. Your recruit doesn’t usually use it as a decision making factor in choosing their favorite school, according to our research (as well as the study I’ve just mentioned). Keep your ‘family’ happy is vital, but don’t trick yourself into thinking your kids care about it when they are making their final decision.
- It’s an emotional validation for you, Coach. This is where you spend your days. Your office might be a part of your facility. Your friends who are coaches at other campuses – the one’s who just got their new facility – are the one’s you’re really trying to keep up with. You deserve better, you want the newest stuff, and you don’t want to have to bring another recruit or booster into that old, smelly, outdated locker room. Why? Because you’re the representative of the program, and it doesn’t feel good to represent something old or smelly. Emotionally, you want the new, shiny building.
- Facilities can be a reason they say no. It won’t usually be a reason they say yes, but a subpar facility is sometimes the reason they say no. In other words, if everything is equal – same cost, same degree quality, same type of conference, same…everything, but your competitor’s facility is newer, your prospect might choose your competitor by using the facilities as a tie-breaker.
- That’s why it’s important to tell a better story. Give them a reason to overlook an older facility. If you don’t tell them how to think about something, like your older facility, don’t be surprised when they make-up their own story. And, don’t be surprised if it’s not a flattering one for you or your program.
- I vote yes. New facilities for every single athletic department in the country! Just to be clear, as a former coach who’s called that old, smelly, outdated office and locker room home, I get it. This is your livelihood, and it’s important to you. You’ve seen the mountaintop at other schools, and you want your athletic department to pony-up and match your competitor’s arsenal. And I want you to have it. If I had the big cardboard check to give you for that multi-million dollar jewel of a gym you’ve been dreaming about, I would. And if you get it someday, I’ll be the first one to give you a high five…followed by a stern warning not to deceive yourself into thinking that it’s going to significantly affect your recruiting results in the years to come.
One final cautionary tale. While certainly not comprehensive, we’ve been tracking the coaching careers of those fortunate few who get new facilities. Do you know what their average tenure at those programs after they get their new facility? Two and a half years. Most are let go. Why? If I had to make an educated guess, behind the scenes, they probably thought recruiting was going to be easy now that they had their new facility. And, it didn’t turn out that way. Which resulted in the meeting not many coaches want to have with their athletic director, who tells them that the donors who funded your new, shiny stadium/locker room/weight room aren’t happy that you aren’t winning more. It happens all the time at the Division I and Division II levels, and it surprise you how often it happens at the Division III and NAIA level.
New facilities are great. But view them in the proper context of your complete recruiting picture.
The truth is, most of the time, your new facility is going to maybe get you back to even with the other school. And then, the other tie-breakers come into play. So, the important question you’d want to ask yourself isn’t “how big should the logo be at midfield on our new turf?”, but instead, “how do we tell a complete story, in a more compelling way, than our competitors?”