Upgraded facilities help ACC keep up with Joneses
There's a construction boom taking place across the Atlantic Coast Conference.
During the past 18 months, half the league's schools have either begun or completed major projects to upgrade their football facilities.
Some are expanding stadiums and adding premium seating and luxury boxes to generate revenue, while trying to improve the gameday experience for fans.
Many others are building practice facilities or adding other perks that directly benefit the athletes themselves - and, of course, catch the eyes of elite recruits.
The schools say spending big bucks on new buildings is a tangible demonstration of their level of commitment to developing and maintaining strong football programs in a conference still trying to sell itself as a major player in the sport.
''It shows the coaches, the staff, they're all committed to us having the best, and are committed to having the program the best that it can be and striving to be the best in the nation,'' Clemson tight end Stanton Seckinger said.
''Nowadays, having facilities like this is just one of the steps you need to do,'' Seckinger added. ''You look all around the country and a lot of people have those things. It does make a difference.''
It won't be long before the $7 million building that Johnson's Yellow Jackets call home will be one of the older ones in the conference - and it opened just three years ago.
By the end of the current construction cycle, every school in the ACC will have access to a permanent indoor practice facility except for Boston College and Miami.
''Anytime that you have construction going on, it's a sign of progress,'' Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said.
When North Carolina State broke ground last month on its privately funded, $14 million practice facility, athletic director Debbie Yow said the Wolfpack ''won't have to feel envious or wonder when we're going to have one.''
Neither will Wake Forest, which held the groundbreaking ceremony for its $21 million indoor building a few weeks after the one at N.C. State. Florida State, Clemson and Virginia opened new indoor practice facilities in 2013, and Syracuse is due to debut one by the end of this year.
Virginia Tech hopes to have its new one ready by the start of next season and some of the school's other teams, including track and field, will inherit the old building constructed in the 1970s.
''Everyone benefits by us having this thing,'' coach Frank Beamer said.
In some cases, the new facilities may have effectively paid for themselves.
Florida State's $15 million indoor building opened before last season, and the Seminoles went on to win their third national title. This year, they unveiled a $4.25 million upgrade that included improved locker rooms - with an iPad in each locker, a new lounge for the players, and statues of past stars.
One reason Louisville was invited into the ACC was its superior facilities, which include recently expanded Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Cardinals are planning further improvements, raising funds toward a $14 million academic center at the stadium.
And while Clemson didn't formally open its $10 million indoor building in January 2013, the Tigers held a handful of practices there leading up to their Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU in December 2012.
''Whatever the final price tag on the building was, it's not even close to what it would have cost to have a 3 1/2-hour infomercial for Clemson University in front of millions and millions of people who get to watch'' the bowl game, coach Dabo Swinney said.
They also hope the next wave of players take notice of this building boom.
''Anything new and brighter makes things a little bit easier on the recruiting trail,'' Shafer said.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said a recruit's typical reaction to the Blue Devils' ambitious construction plan is ''huge.''
Duke - which opened its indoor practice facility in 2011 - plans a massive upgrade to bring 85-year-old Wallace Wade Stadium into the 21st century. Once this season ends, workers will remove the track, lower the playing surface and extend the stands closer to the field. The press box - which presently doubles as the school's sports medicine offices - will be demolished and rebuilt over a roughly 18-month period to include luxury suites and club seating, and the open end of the stadium's horseshoe will be bowled in to raise capacity by roughly 10,000 seats to just under 44,000.
''The commitment's there. They see the commitment's there,'' Cutcliffe said. ''It's next-level stuff.''
AP Sports Writers John Kekis in Syracuse, New York; Aaron Beard in Raleigh, North Carolina; Hank Kurz Jr. in Blacksburg, Virginia; Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina; Gary Graves in Louisville, Kentucky; Associated Press Writer Kareem Copeland in Tallahassee, Florida; and AP freelancer Matt Winklejohn in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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