It’s hard to believe that there’s a kerfuffle over the fate of Virginia Tech’s Stadium Woods. For those of you thinking “Stadium what?”, Stadium Woods is an 11-acre old-growth forest remnant in the middle of Blacksburg that miraculously has been left alone over the years. The VT Athletics Department plans to build an indoor football practice facility there.
According to the university’s 2006-2016 Master Plan Update (33 MB PDF) and the 2009 Master Plan Land Use Update (15 MB PDF), Stadium Woods is an environmental greenway. It’s cited multiple times for its importance for stormwater management. The master plan documents show the proposed practice facility where the tennis courts currently are on the south side of Washington Street. So why on earth is the building suddenly slated for the north part of Stadium Woods?
Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer wants it there.
This information comes from a report written by VT Forestry professor Dr. John Seiler. In the third section of the document Seiler writes:
At a January 20, 2011, Virginia Tech Arboretum Committee meeting, the members were informed by Matt Gart, University Landscape Architect, of the plans for a new indoor athletics practice facility. Mr. Gart informed the group that there were “alternative sites” but that “Beamer wanted it here” (“here” being the north end of Stadium Woods, Figure 6).
I was stunned when I first read this in February. Stunned and outraged, so much so that I got in touch with the founding Friends of Stadium Woods members and offered my help with web design and graphics. (I created and maintain the Save Stadium Woods site.) Beamer is a minor deity in these parts, but can he really point at a patch of land and say “Drop a building there”?
Nah. But the Hokie football money-making machine might be able to.
Recently I’ve learned more about the proposed indoor practice facility, including why “part of the project will involve removing 30 feet of elevation and moving approximately 80,000 cubic yards of dirt from the woods” (source).
Indoor football practice facilities are the latest weapon in the college football recruitment arms race.
In order to stay competitive when trying to woo high school football players and their parents, one must have a state-of-the-art indoor facility adjacent to the stadium and/or outdoor practice field. All of the cool kids are doing it!
- Clemson, according to a March 30, 2012 story on orangeandwhite.com:
“We’re trying to build a nationally-competitive program, and that’s something we haven’t had in a very long time,” [Coach Dabo] Swinney said. “We’ve accomplished a great deal in three years, and there’s a lot more work to do. But this facility is another step. … We’re going to be recruiting-ready all the time,” Swinney said. “When they drive up, they’re going to see extreme commitment. All the elements are in place.”
Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips noted that “every school we play is very heavily invested in facilities” and called Clemson’s new building “another step in the direction” of making the school’s athletic facilities second to none.
- University of Virginia, according to an August 2011 Daily Press story:
Less than four weeks after Virginia Tech formally announced its intentions to begin building an indoor practice facility specifically geared toward its football program, Virginia is getting into the act with its own indoor facility plans.
U.Va. football coach Mike London confirmed plans for the facility are in the works. During his time as a U.Va. assistant coach from 2001-04 and ’06 and ’07, plus his current two-year tenure as the Cavaliers’ coach, he has seen firsthand what an indoor facility could bring to his program: practice time uniterrupted [sic] by poor weather, and a key recruiting tool.
“The obvious benefit is the opportunity to continue to practice in the case of inclement weather, and to continue to train and develop the players in season and out of season,” London said. “The auxiliary reason would be for the recruiting standpoint, to be able show that we’re committed to provide the best facilities available and possible.
“Let’s face it, in today’s culture and today’s society, young men are coming out there looking to see the benefits that can be provided to them. You want to be able to provide opportunities from an academic standpoint. I think it covers all bases, without a doubt, but at the same time if you’re going to compete and say you want to compete for championships and try to attract the top level student-athletes that are out there, then some of the things they look at and use in their decision about where they’re going is where do you train, how do you train, in the even inclement weather occurs where to you go, what’s your weight room look like?”
Similar remarks in appear in an August 2011 Daily Progress story.
“Those boys down the road [referring to Virgnia Tech] are building one and we need to build one,” said an interested UVa party. “Because if we don’t respond, we’ll definitely be second fiddle.”
Building a new facility, probably where Onesty Hall now sits, would show how serious a commitment Virginia is making to restoring its football glory. Recruits notice. Recruits ask.
If my hypothesis is correct, a key reason why VT Athletics wants their new practice facility where about half of Stadium Woods now stands is recruitment. To compete with other football programs, an indoor practice facility must be similar to existing ones, which means adjacent to an outdoor field and at the same elevation. In theory that makes it easier to recruit better football players, which means better Hokie football, which equates to millions of dollars of funding to Tech in various forms, not to mention all of the business deals that hinge on Hokie entertainment.
I understand that football is an important part of the Blacksburg economy, but for cryin’ out loud, could we build the new facility on the original site and spare the over 250-year-old trees? You know, like it’s been planned since at least 2006? Pretty please?