Derek Redd: MU’s indoor facility is a commitment to the future
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - On what was one of the landmark days in Marshall University athletics history, Athletic Director Mike Hamrick admitted something that, normally, would be a buzzkill.
A buffalo chip in the punchbowl, if you will.
As he stood before dozens of guests and donors seated in front of him, student-athletes and coaches standing farther back, he confessed how many working computers Thundering Herd student-athletes had at their disposal.
That's a number no Football Bowl Subdivision school wants to declare. It was a product of a university's stagnation, an example of what happens when an athletic program sits back and watches its rivals pass it by in terms of resources.
Very soon, though, dirt will be turned for an indoor athletic complex right next to Joan C. Edwards Stadium, which will change all that.
"We're going to have over 170 computers in this new 13-14,000-square foot academic center," Hamrick told the audience, "that will be as good as anywhere."
Much of the spotlight has focused on the new 120-yard indoor football field included in the new complex, and for good reason. Anyone who's ever seen a football coach's disappointment when lightning streaks across the sky and postpones practice - or anyone who sat through the sleet squall in Edwards Stadium at the end of March - knows its importance. But that facility will play so many more roles.
It will be a tantalizing carrot to dangle in front of recruits, especially in the university's cash cow sport. The college football arms race has evolved in the 21st century. Every FBS school offers 85 scholarships. There are 70 bowl slots for 125 teams. The growing landscape of cable television creates more options to watch your teams with each passing day.
What used to be special in the 1980s and 1990s has become more commonplace. The one area where football programs can distance themselves from the pack is facilities. Doc Holliday reeled in the best recruiting class among FBS non-automatic qualifier schools this February. What might he be able to do with a brand new indoor complex to show off?
Most importantly, it will be a bright, shining example of Marshall's holistic dedication to its student athletes. Holliday often says that recruits buy with their eyes. So do Mom and Dad, and they're looking for different bells and whistles than their sons and daughters.
Until ESPN debuts "Monday Night Volleyball," most collegiate student-athletes aren't looking at their time at Marshall as a ticket to professional sports riches. It's an opportunity to get a bachelor's degree and be handed a smaller bill - or maybe no bill at all - at the end. Parents know that, and if they hear about 17 working computers for student-athletes, there may not be enough championship banners on the entire campus to keep them from swaying their children to another school.
Now Mom and Dad will hear about a big, new academic center with dozens of computers and a transitional sports medicine center. And very soon, they'll see those things with their own eyes. They'll see concrete proof that Marshall has their children's best interests, athletically and academically, at heart.
How big is this next step in Marshall athletics? Big enough that Hamrick - a burly former Herd linebacker who's quick with a quip and says he's not an emotional guy - sniffled a couple of times standing behind the podium.
Big enough that Jim Justice, a former Herd golf team captain who now owns the palatial Greenbrier Resort, wrote a check for $5 million to Marshall's Vision Campaign to help get the complex built. Big enough that university President Stephen J. Kopp shouted "Hell, yes," when answering his own question of whether the university has done anything to improve itself.
Chad Pennington - a record-setting Herd quarterback and, for many, the face of Marshall football - sat on the stage that Friday with Hamrick and Kopp and others. He and Los Angeles Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni were honorary co-chairs of the Vision Campaign that made the new complex a reality. He admitted that, if you asked some folks during his college career whether a facility like this could be a reality at Marshall, they'd say no. He wouldn't have been one of them.
That's not Marshall's history, he said. It's a university that has seen its share of dark moments, yet rose from them to succeed again and again.
"This is an expectation of mine," he said. "This is what I expect from our university. My standard for our university and our standards should be high. We should expect nothing but the best, because our story is unlike any other."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.