The Emerging Arms Race in Collegiate Athletics

John McKay Center, University of Southern California

By: Sam Shields, @samshieldss

As the 2016–2017 school calendar year begins, collegiate athletics are ramping back up with much of the focus geared towards college football, entering it’s third year using the college football playoffs format. While college football is often the centerpiece of a Division I athletics program here in the United States, bringing in most, if not all of a program’s revenue in one form or another, there are dozens of other sports for both men and women to participate in. With universities often comprised of hundreds of student athletes and anywhere between a few sports to 35 sports, recruiting has become as competitive as ever.

It’s seen across different sports that often times the same teams will be on top at the end of the year, with the exception of a few Cinderella stories here and there. In basketball, you have a loaded ACC with schools such as Duke, UNC and Syracuse laden with talent. In football, the SEC is always a powerhouse with Alabama, LSU and Florida often leading the way. The list goes on and on and by no coincidence. When it comes to recruiting, it can be seen as a triple edged sword with coaching being a decisive factor, followed by education and facilities. These three characteristics of a university often sway student-athletes one way or another with their long term vision in mind. The better the overall package a university offers, the easier recruiting appears to be.

Casanova Center, University of Oregon

Coaching and education, while noticeably essential, are time stamped characteristics that will not change too much with time. Athletic facilities and university perks, however, are part of an ever evolving arms race. Step onto any Division I Power Five conference school and their athletic accommodations will likely astonish you. If renovations have not been made recently to the facilities that student-athletes use on a daily basis, they are sure to come soon. Universities do not want to fall behind in recruiting simply because they cannot offer buildings and fields that compare.

Clemson recently completed a $63.5 million face-lift to its basketball stadium while beginning a $55 million upgrade to its football operations complex. USC announced a $275 million restoration to the Coliseum which comes after completing a $70 million upgrade to its John McKay Center. Tennessee is upgrading its Anderson Training Center for a cool $45 million. The list goes on and on as the arms race in collegiate athletic facilities continues. Companies such as Advent and 49 (Degrees) are often used in helping modernize the look and feel inside the new facilities, while also keeping the history aspect of the athletics program in the spotlight.

Clemson's Proposed Football Operations Complex (clemsontigers/ 

In addition to athletic venues, the arms race continues in other forms that also benefit student-athletes of all sports such as new apparel deals and upgraded fueling programs. As I have discussed before, there is heavy competition between Under Armour, Nike and Adidas who continue to ink record breaking deals with college programs. Just this past year Under Armour signed with UCLA, formerly an Adidas school, for 15 years worth $280 million. There will surely be some newly decked out Under Armour student-athletes on the UCLA campus.

As a prized student-athlete in high school, it is easy to picture yourself utilizing some of the best facilities in college athletics across the country, sporting the nicest sports apparel and benefitting from national exposure. It will be fascinating to follow the collegiate athletics arms race that continues to see unprecedented levels and perceive how it affects recruiting as the 2016–2017 calendar year gets underway.