The University of Miami football team is walking around with a bit more swagger and pride these days, and not just because the 14th-ranked Hurricanes are 4-0 heading into Saturdays game against Georgia Tech. The coaches and players have the look of new homeowners, proud of their swank, new $14.7 million digs, eager to show it off to recruits and visitors.
Opulence sells in this day of the $68 million Nike sports palace at the University of Oregon and the $40 million Oklahoma State athletic complex. UM never had the shiny facilities to match its postcard scenery, sunny weather and storied football tradition. The Canes still dont have the biggest house on the block. Not even close. But they have a glorious home that should impress even the most-demanding high school stars.
The 34,000-square-foot Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence opened in phases over the past few months and will be dedicated Friday. It includes the 10,800-square-foot Dwayne The Rock Johnson Locker Room and the Jonathan Vilma Players Lounge that is a cross between a swoopy South Beach hotel lobby and an electronics store oversized leather chairs with the U on every chair back, flat screen TVs in every direction, video games, cellphone charging stations in each locker and a nutrition bar with fruit, power drinks, and other nutritious snacks for athletes on the go.
Miamis modernized training center which services some 400 athletes quadrupled in size to 12,000 square feet and now includes a dental chair for emergency mouth injuries, private physicians examining room, and state-of-the-art rehab center that rivals most NFL facilities.
Hydraulic pools? Check. Three of them. OK, so they dont have waterfalls, like the ones at the University of Alabama, but they do have underwater cameras so trainers can see how injured legs are progressing.
A $70,000 anti-gravity treadmill that allows athletes to run at adjustable body weights to lessen stress on knees? Miami has that, too.
UMs academic and compliance department moved from cramped dark quarters to a spacious bright area with dozens of computer desks, study rooms, counselors offices and an auditorium
The showcase of the building is the airy high-ceilinged DiMare Gallery of Champions a glitzy lobby centered on a collection of UM memorabilia that includes five crystal national championship football trophies, two Heisman trophies, four baseball national championship trophies and lots of ACC championship hardware.
We were looking for the Wow factor, that initial pop when you bring a kid through the door for the first time, and now we have it, said UM athletic director Blake James. Times have changed. Kids are impressionable and make decisions differently from kids of the past. We had to raise the bar because the reality is, in college athletics, if youre standing still everyone else is passing you by. This is a great step for us and gives us a grand entrance, a top-notch academic center, fabulous training room, spacious locker room. It addresses a lot of the challenges we had and allows us to service our athletes at the highest level.
Last year, an ESPN.com writer rated the athletic facilities in the ACC. Miami finished 11th of the 12 teams. Surely, the Hurricanes would finish higher than that now.
Said Jesse Marks, associate athletic director for development: Kids buy with their eyes now. The internet changed recruiting. Kids can go online and see waterfalls at some schools, hydrotherapy pools and Miami didnt have those sorts of things. Now, our facilities are up to par, and combined with all of the other great plusses here, it makes a huge difference.
The new facility was made possible because of a $5 million donation by Theodore Schwartz and his son, Todd, neither of whom attended UM, but both of whom fell in love with the Hurricanes from Chicago. Their affiliation with UM began in 1999, when Todd was a college senior and took a campus visit. He wound up going to Tulane, but his mother, Christine, a nurse, was captivated by the struggling UM nursing school, so she made a generous donation.
Her husband had been a Canes fan since 1964, when he saw a televised UM game.
I was 10 years old, and I saw the old Orange Bowl, with the palm trees, and I thought, How can they play football in a climate like that? Where I came from, it was snow and cold. So, I started following them that day.
I grew up in a sea of Notre Dame fans, and I always rooted for UM, said Todd Schwartz, who now owns a home in Aventura. UM has always been kind of an underdog, so it means a lot for us to be able to help the program and change the landscape for the U.
James realizes there is more work to be done. UM is a small private school and doesnt generate the kind of alumni dollars as giant state institutions. But now, he says, UM can at least compete.
We were behind with our facilities, and this doesnt put us ahead of the competition, but on par with most schools, James said. It is a smart investment. It isnt lavish or excessive, but its a great step.
The new facility, located just north of the Isidore Hecht Athletic Center, has already impressed recruits, said football coach Al Golden.
It gives us something to hang our hat on, Golden said. It makes such a difference from a recruiting standpoint and a morale standpoint. Its been an arms race for the past 10 to 12 years. We were lagging in that department. Obviously, this gives us a real boost.
Walking by those national championship trophies is inspiring, say the Hurricane players.
It is a constant reminder every day of what we want to accomplish, said senior offensive lineman Jared Wheeler.
Senior defensive back A.J. Highsmith knows how far UM facilities have come. His father, Alonzo, was a star running back in the mid-1980s, when the Hurricanes won national titles despite a dumpy locker room, cramped gym, and a practice field that is a fraction of what it is now.
I hear stories from my dad, and I visited here over the years as a kid, so I know how it used to be, the younger Highsmith said. Kids today care more about how things look, but the main thing we want is to achieve, and walking by that Gallery of Champions every day lets you know what kind of standards you have to hold yourself to because you know what came before you.
Said Golden: Those trophies are the standard at the end of the day. We have a long way to go as a program. But we know where the bar is and what were chasing and were reminded of it as we walk around our new home.