SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's impending move to the Pac-12 will be accompanied by plenty of changes.
None, however, will be as visible on campus as the construction of a new $16 million football facility on Guardsman Way. The 57,640-square-foot complex will replace the Dee Glen Smith Center, which was refurbished in 1991.
Construction is expected to begin in December and take 12-16 months to complete.
"It's huge. We are in dire need of a new football center," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We have some excellent facilities here at Utah. The football center is not one of them and that's something that needs to be updated, upgraded, redone, and we're going to do that starting in December."
The new football facility, which will be attached to the Alex Smith Strength and Conditioning Room, is going to house state-of-the-art sports medicine and athletic training space, a multipurpose dining hall, a team locker room, offices for the coaches and support staff, equipment storage, a player lounge, a Hall of Fame, a team auditorium with space for 150 athletes and coaches, plus meeting rooms for each position group with enhanced video capabilities.
"Going into the Pac-12, it's an all-out arms race," Whittingham said. "Everybody is building the bigger and better buildings, and we've got to keep up with everybody."
The new facility, he added, was the selling point in recruiting this year. Football recruits are shown a building model and drawings of what is expected to be in place well before the 2012 season.
Utah athletics director Chris Hill noted that Rice-Eccles Stadium, the practice fields and strength room are considered "great" by recruits. The same, however, cannot be said for the rest of the football facility.
"We have really, really good facilities except for that," Hill said. "That's the missing piece of the puzzle."
Hill noted that approximately 35 percent of the funding has already been raised and he's confident that the entire project will be covered by donor dollars. Utah officials are busy securing commitments for what Hill considers "Priority No. 1" for Utah's move to the Pac-12 in July.
"Our fundraising effort is focused in on this, and we're making progress," Hill said. "We think people understand the sense of urgency and the need and we're fortunate that people want to do that."
Hill outlined several reasons for the athletic department's "laser" focus on getting the facility built.
For starters, the updated and expanded sports medicine facilities will get players back on the field more quickly and ensure proper rehabilitation for injuries.
The dining room, which will replace a tent, allows for more individualized meal plans for the athletes.
From a practical standpoint, Hill explained, such improvements will keep Utah up with the rest of the league.
Same goes for things such as enhancing the functionality of the football program in terms of proper meeting spaces, video technology and giving players "a home away from home" aside from academics.
"This is the missing piece of the puzzle to make sure when recruits come in they say: "Hey this is the big time. This is a BCS school, this is the Pac-12.' We're there," Hill said.
Utah obviously wants its teams to do well, he continued, and coaches need to have the tools to meet such expectations.
Hill said it's important for other sports to have those opportunities as well. The department has plans in place, but some of the future projects may be tied to sport-specific donations.
A new softball facility and outdoor tennis courts are the most immediate needs. Basketball practice facilities are also on the agenda. Expanding Rice-Eccles Stadium, Hill explained, is something that will be looked at in the next two or three years. He said there's no pressing mandate to increase capacity.
Utah currently has the third highest number of season tickets in the league, Hill noted, and the stadium provides a good atmosphere for games.
The program's missing component, however, is the soon-to-be-built football facility.
While calling the Smith Center a wonderful facility in 1991, Hill explained that things have changed so much that it is no longer adequate.
Building something new, he continued, is exciting because it'll put Utah in a top-notch category in the country.
"This helps us be at the highest level with our facilities," Hill said while noting that it's been a collaborative effort involving Whittingham and others including the sports medicine staff. "We want to make sure that we do it right."
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