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Supporting new football facility means supporting all UVa sports, board told
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Supporting new football facility means supporting all UVa sports, board told

University of Virginia football training facilities that are three decades old are hindering the university’s efforts to recruit top-notch players and could threaten the future success of the football program and other sports, school athletic officials say.

Several members of the UVa Board of Visitors told athletics staff on Friday that they support funding a $136 million athletics project that includes $65 million to build a football training facility and $22 million to renovate the existing facility for use as an Olympic sports training facility.

The comments came at a board retreat held in the athletic dining room at the John Paul Jones Arena.

The facility would be built on Massie Road, adjacent to the existing Dr. Frank C. McCue Center, the George Welsh Indoor Football Practice Facility and the new football outdoor grass practice fields.

The project includes facilities for football and Olympic sports training, performance areas, locker rooms, sports medicine and hydrotherapy pool areas. Also included are conference and meeting rooms, sports nutrition and building support spaces for a total of 160,000 square feet.

The board’s committee on buildings and grounds reviewed the proposal at a March meeting.

UVa Athletic Director Carla Williams told the board Friday that the football program pays for the school’s other sports. She said the best way to support programs that have produced Olympic medal-winning soccer players and swimmers is to back the football facilities.

“Revenue from UVa football is used to support our entire athletic department. Going from no bowl to the Orange Bowl impacts all 27 sports at Virginia,” she said. “What do we have to do to assure that we can compete for, and win, national championships in men’s lacrosse, women’s diving, tennis and soccer? With the uncertainty in collegiate athletics, the best way is to invest in the one sport that drives all the revenue for the rest of them.”

Williams said that as successful as the men’s basketball team has been, the program is almost breaking even.

“They are almost self-sustaining, but they cannot fund another support,” she said. “To support UVa football is to support other sports, and that means providing the football program with the facility they need to compete.”

Williams said the football team’s current training facility, the McCue Center, is “the worst facility in the Atlantic Coast Conference.”

The center opened in 1991 and cost an estimated $10 million to build. That would be an estimated $20 million in 2021. It was considered at the time to be one of the best in the country and was featured in Sports Illustrated. An update of the center was completed in 2007 to upgrade the building’s looks and add improved technology.

Time, however, marches on. The facilities are smaller than most, including the basketball facilities at JPJ. They are older, cramped and inefficient, Williams said.

“Do new facilities guarantee a national championship? They don’t. But having the worst football facilities in the ACC guarantees we will always be behind,” she said. “We will always be fighting an uphill battle in recruiting and on the field.”

Williams said UVa’s facility does not need to be equal to others, but it needs to be modernized and efficient to improve performance and training, as well as attract recruits. Head football coach Bronco Mendenhall agreed.

“We’ve lost eight recruits in a row and we’re talking about four-star, five-star recruits,” he said. “They look at the facility and it says to them that we don’t care about football.”

Board member Frank M. Connor, a former rector of the university, said he supports the project. His view was echoed by current Rector Whittington W. Clement and UVa President Jim Ryan.

“We need to make the football program a priority,” Connor said. “Whatever is going on in athletics, we want to stay on top of it. We have found funding for a variety of programs and we need to find funding for this.”

Williams said the facility doesn’t need to be the best, just significantly better.

“We don’t need to have exactly what Florida has to go toe-to-toe with Florida on the field,” she said. “But the [2019] Orange Bowl does not have to be an anomaly for the university. It doesn’t have to be something that has happened only once in the history of the university. It can be an expectation.”

The board is expected to vote on the athletics project at a future meeting.

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