Sunday, August 08, 2010
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Facility upgrades are stunning

When it comes to 64-inch flat-screen TVs, you might think five would be enough.

But you would be wrong. At least when it comes to football players.

Football players, you see, need a half dozen.

And even if they don't, Virginia Tech isn't taking any chances.

So later this month, Tech's players will have access to such a luxury. Their new lounge, part of an $18 million facilities upgrade, also will feature a pair of 9-foot pool tables, ample furnishings and an outdoor patio that overlooks the practice field.

The privately funded addition -- which includes locker rooms for players and coaches, taping areas, equipment distribution areas, the lounge, hot tubs, a snack bar and, on the top floor, a new wrestling room -- totals 41,900 square feet. The dressing rooms alone are close to 15,000 square feet, nearly three times the size of the football team's current quarters.

Size matters, and not just to the players. Tech associate athletic director Tom Gabbard, who oversaw the project, recalls having the following conversation with coach Frank Beamer during the planning stages:

Beamer: "What's the biggest locker you've ever seen?"

Gabbard: "Coach, I think it's about 40 inches."

Beamer: "I want ours 42."

Any guess what size Tech's new lockers are?

"I think in this business you've got to state your desires or your intentions," Beamer said Saturday, after confirming Gabbard's account. "And I think this dressing room goes a long ways to state our intentions here at Virginia Tech."

In other words, they want to be the best. The biggest. The most eye-catching for recruits.

It's impossible to say where this new facility places the Hokies in those categories. Like some Guinness World Record for jump roping, that 42-inch locker will be exceeded by another school eventually, if it hasn't already. The arms race of college sports does not stop, even in a tough economy.

(Quick aside: The next time somebody tells you college athletes should be paid, remember this: The scholarship is valuable, no doubt, but so is the fact that they are treated like royalty for four or five years.) Gabbard said the department started with some seed money for the project, then raised the remaining $11.8 million to pay for it in cash. In all, the process took about 14 months.

Beamer joked that the fact that general contractor is based in Charlottesville is "a little bit of a concern, to be honest with you."

"We're going to check all of the cracks," he quipped. "Nah, we got the best bid. That's how the state system works, the best bid. I tell you this: I think they've done a terrific job. That dressing room is something else."

Furniture will be brought in early this week. The players could move in as soon as next weekend, Gabbard said, but ultimately that'll be up to Beamer.

Odds are they'll be pushing him to make the move quickly.

"I'm pretty sure with the things the new locker room has, we won't want to leave," tailback Ryan Williams said. "Some people might spend the night there."

Bad odors shouldn't be a problem. Each of the lockers is vented and features a personal safe and an electrical outlet. If players don't feel like trudging all the way to the lounge to watch the TVs, they don't have to; each of the 11 aisles of lockers will have a flat screen mounted on the end of it.

Over the next few weeks, they'll spruce up the place further with artwork and graphics.

"It's just going to be second to none," Beamer said.

That is, of course, until somebody else installs seven 64-inchers. Which you might think is crazy -- until somebody goes to eight.

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