Virginia opened its indoor practice facility, named for former coach George Welsh, in March. (September 9, 2013)
Virginia Tech football lacks few amenities associated with national-caliber programs. Thanks to generous donors and a supportive administration, the Hokies practice, condition, play and prepare in ever-evolving facilities.
One exception: an indoor practice complex.
The administration’s miscalculation on a site — Coach Frank Beamer announced more than two years ago that funding for the project had started — and a subsequent protracted fight with environmentalists left Tech behind many of its ACC rivals and national peers.
With a compromise site approved this week by the university’s Board of Visitors, the Hokies could have their indoor field by 2015. Until then, they’ll continue, when weather dictates, to use Rector Field House, a building designed for track that precludes kicking (roof’s too low) and scrimmaging (walls hug the sidelines).
“Oh my gosh,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday when I asked about the benefits. “It’s paid for itself three times over. It really has. Talk about picking … the perfect year to build an indoor facility. We picked it. We were able to practice in it about five times before our bowl game last year, which was huge for us, because the weather was terrible, and to be able to continue to practice full speed, especially when you’re trying to prepare for a physical team like LSU was, it was huge.
“This spring and this summer, we’ve had a world record of rain around here, but we never missed a day. We don’t even have to think about it. Prior to having an indoor, we didn’t have anywhere to go where we could practice full speed. You can go inside somewhere and walk through but … you don’t get better at this game walking through. You gotta practice full speed to really improve.”
Bless his high-motor heart, Dabo was just getting cranked up.
“Then you get into summer, when the skills and drills are going on with your players. And what people don’t realize is, it’s not like you can say, ‘OK, let’s come back in three hours.’ These guys’ schedules are so structured, and there’s very little flexibility. So you have a window of time when you can practice and they can do their skills and drills in the summer. All of a sudden you have lightning or whatever, you just miss it. I think we were averaging about 14 days a year that we were missing training or whatever. So we don’t worry about that anymore. …
“I’ll tell you another effect of it is, we take them out of the heat sometimes. Sometimes on Thursdays you’re trying to bring their legs back, so to be able to take them out of that direct sun and be able to help them with that recovery process and get them ready for that game, it’s been a real blessing.
“Also for our fields. We do our walk throughs, we do our flex every single day (inside). To take that off of our grass fields helps us maintain those surfaces. Towards the end of the season, we've got great practice surfaces still.”
“When you’re at our level and competing with the upper-tier (Bowl Championship Series) programs from a recruiting standpoint, those things matter,” Swinney said.
Virginia’s Mike London was less effusive but projected “big dividends” from the Cavaliers’ new $13 million building, which carries the name of former coach George Welsh.
“We used to go inside a smaller place … where a bunch of bodies were in there and you really couldn't get things done,” London said. “It was basically a walk through. But the ability to still practice and do your fundamental work and team work and all the things that you want provides an opportunity for development, and that is the key.”
Nationally, top-10 teams Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State, Texas A&M and LSU have indoor practice facilities. Stanford and Georgia do not.
Here’s a summary of ACC programs:
Clemson: Opened a $10 million complex in late December.
Duke: Pascal Field House opened in 2011 at a cost of $13 million.