Thoughts On The New Football Performance Center
First there was the south endzone renovation, complete with locker rooms and coaches offices and a new tunnel for the team to enter from the south. Then we heard that everything was shifting to the northeast. And today we got some drawings.
I think I might get some architecture friends to help discuss the overall plan (phase II will be renovating the horseshoe), but for now, some thoughts on the new "Illini Football Performance Center", which will be ready before the 2019 season begins.
1. I still prefer the south endzone
As mentioned in previous posts, I was a huge, huge fan of the south endzone project as detailed in the Mike Thomas feasibility study. The massive locker room right next to the field, the coaches offices at the top overlooking the stadium below (with terraces to sit and chat with a recruit overlooking his future field of glory) - I loved it.
So from the get-go, this thing is going to be a disappointment to me. Getting something new - ANYTHING new - is great. And sorely needed. But I'll probably forever have my hand on the back bus window as I drive away from the south endzone drawings, never to see them again. The plan was perfect (in my eyes).
2. Lovie prefers this
I just looked for a clip and couldn't find it, but I recall a press conference where Lovie mentioned that he preferred to have everything "all in one place". As in, if the locker room was under the horseshoe, that's a long way from the indoor practice facility. Yes, having the locker room next to the field is great for gameday, but for the other six days of the week, it would be difficult getting everyone dressed and taped up under the horseshoe and then having them walk to the Irwin indoor.
I think that's the genesis for this study (and the revised, phased plan of doing all of the football facilities in a stand-alone building and then doing the stadium renovations as stadium renovations. I disagree with Lovie here, and I think his office overlooking the field >>>>> his office overlooking the practice fields, but he's the coach and I'm the blogger so what I say doesn't matter an ounce.
3. That's a long way from the field
It's halftime. We have to do that pause while Minnesota crosses the field to the northwest corner to head to the visitor's locker room. Then we head across to the tunnel. The team walks up the tunnel, turns left down the hall, climbs an ancient staircase to the second level, comes out of the staircase and does a 180 degree turn to the left down a long hallway. Then they go through the doors outside, walk past the fans on the east sidewalk and into the new building. They enter the building, go down the hall, turn right, and presto, they're in the locker room. Oops, the clock reads 5:00, time to head back to the field.
OK not really. It's not THAT long. But I'm still a bit taken aback that our locker room will be in a different building, not connected to the stadium, across a public sidewalk, a level or two above the field. Yes, I've seen the videos of Notre Dame players walking a mile down ancient stairways - it's not that big of a deal - but it still feels odd to me.
4. Things I love about it
Here's a few images, and then I'll make a list.
Here's the list.
- It's connected to the Irwin Indoor. That walk to the locker room is long during the 6-7 home games. But it's quite short the other 150 days of practice/spring practice/offseason workouts. Players can dress for practice, get taped up, and walk down some stairs and into the indoor. Or walk out a different door onto the practice field (straight from the locker room). And on the second floor of the Iliini Football Performance Center, they're going to punch through the wall and build a small terrace overlooking the indoor. Someone on the second floor of the IFPC wants to see what's going on inside the Irwin? They can simply walk over to the terrace and look down. Cool.
- Speaking of terraces, the new building will have a long terrace overlooking the practice field. All glass behind (with the office for every coach) overlooking the three (now likely two-and-a-half) practice fields on the east side of the stadium. I think I'd pay luxury suite prices to be able to stand there and watch practice.
- Perhaps the best part of the design is the massive team room. As you've probably seen from pictures, the current "squad room" is a tiny, cramped 1970's masonry block "room" where all team meetings are held. The new team room will be massive, like a lecture hall, with windows overlooking the practice fields. That's a huge upgrade. All of the planned meeting rooms are. Perhaps four times bigger than the current meeting rooms (picture the 10 safeties crammed into a tiny closet to review film, and now picture them in a massive space with video screens everywhere - it's a huge change from the current set-up).
- The player lounge off the locker room has a two-lane bowling alley. Totally rad. Just like the White House.
- There's something called the "NFL Locker Room" right off the recruiting lounge. No idea what it is but I want to go there.
- Everything probably quadruples in size from the current set-up. The locker room. The showers. The player lounge. The whirlpool/lap pool/rehab area. The coaches offices. The team meeting rooms. Everything, really.
- One question: the two-story "sports performance area" shown in the renderings - I'm guessing that's a new weight room? Meaning the one we built in 2008 under the NEZ stands gets... turned over to the olympic sports?
5. Final Thoughts
Where I land: we desperately need new stuff. The stadium was expanded for the fans in 2008, and there was a nice recruiting lounge built underneath the new north stands, but the team has continued to use the outdated (by decades) locker room and meeting rooms. So adding anything is a huge improvement. We really, really need this stuff. One walk through the current facility and many of you would laugh out loud. We really, really need this.
I just wish it was all going under the south endzone.