By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — If all goes as planned, the UVa football team will have a new place to practice when Mother Nature forces the Cavaliers inside.
Virginia hopes to build an indoor facility that would cover one of the two fields on which the football team currently practices behind University Hall and the McCue Center. The cost of the project would be $13 million, $5 million of which was pledged in June by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
UVa’s Board of Visitors will review the proposal this month. If the board approves the concept, said Jon Oliver, Virginia’s executive associate athletics director, “we’d like to have the fund raising completed by Christmas or January. In an ideal world, this project is finished by the start of fall camp in 2013 at the latest.”
Schools such as Georgia Tech, Duke and Auburn have recently opened indoor practice facilities, and similar buildings are planned at Clemson, Florida State and UVa’s biggest ACC rival, Virginia Tech.
An indoor facility would be further proof of UVa’s “commitment to develop the student-athletes here,” football coach Mike London said Wednesday.
“When you have an opportunity to continue practice, continue to develop these guys, their skills and fundamentals and techniques, and not be worried about inclement weather, then it’s a significant deal.
“It’s fantastic. I know a lot of people’s effort and energies have gone into trying to make this happen, and we’re excited about the opportunity to see it come to fruition.”
UVa hired London in December 2009 to rebuild a program that once ranked among the ACC’s finest. He’s worked tirelessly to repair frayed relationships between the football program and the rest of the University. His players’ grades and class attendance have improved, and his team has been active in the Charlottesville and University communities.
“In terms of what we wanted him to do, he’s hit home runs,” Oliver said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.
“There’s only a couple things that Mike has really talked about in terms of what he needs to help us get to the next level, and an indoor facility is one of them. We talked about it early, and we talked about a [practice] bubble and where would it go. We looked at a number of options. But the good thing about Mike is that he was willing to allow this to be built on his second practice field. And if you build it the right way, you can go from an outdoor field to the indoor field based on how you set up your doors in the building, and it shouldn’t disrupt anything.
“So Mike saw the wisdom of that. He’s also been a good partner with the rest of the sports here, in that he’s not afraid to let other sports use the facility at other times when football’s not using it. This will benefit all of our field sports. You can use an indoor facility late into the evening, so it’s a great opportunity for other sports to use it as well.”
Raising the remaining $8 million will not be easy, Oliver knows.
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” he said. “These are tough economic times. We’re hopeful that people will understand the priority we’re trying to put on this sport and to get these things done to help our programs remain competitive. If you like the success you’ve seen in the Olympic sports, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with football and basketball.
“In basketball, in 2006 we built the John Paul Jones Arena. We gave the basketball program a chance to compete. Look at the recruits that [men’s coach Tony Bennett] is starting to get. We’ve got to do the same thing in football to help them be competitive.”
Without an indoor facility, Oliver said, UVa is likely to struggle to reach its goals in football, “because the stratosphere that we’re trying to enter in terms of recruiting, and getting [elite] student-athletes to take a look at us, requires that we have what everybody else has in place. We’re not trying to enter into an arms race. We’re going to do what’s right for the University of Virginia. But there are some basic things you need to have in place. It’s not just this facility. We’re going to need to upgrade our [McCue Center] weight room. We haven’t touched that thing in almost 10 years. There’s some basic things we’re going to need to do just to stay in the game. We’re not trying to build a Taj Mahal. We’re trying to do what it takes to be competitive on an annual basis.”
Virginia Tech already has an indoor facility — Rector Field House — in which Frank Beamer’s team can practice in bad weather. And now the Hokies are “talking about building another one,” Oliver said. “We’ve never had one.”
UVa has the Cage in Onesty Hall, a space that offers cover, but little else.
“That’s an embarrassment,” Oliver said.
London said: “You don’t want to go in there, because it’s just not conducive to having 120 guys in there and throwing the ball and running.”
When a thunderstorm forced the team off the practice fields during training camp last month, London and his players crossed the street for a less-than-ideal session on the main floor of John Paul Jones Arena, where the basketball court had been taken up.
“That is not what you want to be doing with a field sport,” Oliver said.
JPJ is “a basketball facility,” London said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity to go inside and protect the players from the lightning, but it’s a concrete floor, and you’re wearing helmets and shoulder pads in a condensed space, and it just wasn’t conducive to having a productive practice. ”
“Sometimes you have to adapt and improvise, but having an opportunity for an indoor facility now allows you to continue with the plan, continue developing the guys and getting ready for games. Having something over your head when it starts to lightning and thunder, it’s a critical piece to recruiting and the development of our guys.”
The architectural details of the proposed indoor facility have yet to be determined, but it’s likely to be similar to the $9 million building that Georgia Tech opened last month. That facility is about 88,000 square feet.