Feature Article - May 2022
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Better, Stronger, Healthier

2022 Trends in Collegiate Sports Facility Design

By Kelli Ra Anderson

While the design goals of collegiate sports facilities remain largely unchanged, new tools in the architect's toolbox (visualizing software, collaborative systems like BIM 360, and diversity in staff specialization like wellness and sustainability) are resulting in more effective designs where project ideas are being integrated earlier in the process through multiple disciplines. Combine this with heightened competition between schools for student athletes in an age of open portals, and the overall results are better by just about every metric.

Whether it's more kinds of amenities, a heightened fan experience, one-stop shopping complexes or catering to the whole student, today's collegiate sports venues and facilities must be better, stronger, healthier and higher-tech than ever before.

Greater Expectations

"Recruitment is such an important aspect right now, and the architecture is following. Everybody is looking for an edge," said Blaine Perau, AIA, of RDG Planning and Design in Des Moines, Iowa. "The facilities that can translate success on the court and field is a critical element because it can make the difference between bringing in 4- and 5-star recruits. It's all based on the experience of their first visit and what sticks in their mind when they're on campus."

Graphics and messaging are front and center in today's newest builds, regardless of school size. "It has intensified. There are interactive walls and all kinds of displays. There's a big emphasis on the messaging when you bring in a recruit. What do they see? And how are they inspired?" said Chris Sgarzi, principal and leader of sports practice with Sasaki Design in Boston. "If you look at Division I, a student might come in and want to see a wall of NFL players that have been at that school and be able to dream about themselves. Or there's Division III who aren't necessarily coming with aspirations to play professionally, but the common denominator is pride and history and support."

The impact and integration of NIL (name, image and likeness) rules and understanding how schools have the opportunity to create NIL spaces up front and center can be an incredibly effective recruiting tool and asset for institutions that think early in the programming phase of creating the space, creating the department and creating the technology to allow them to boost student athlete social image profiles.

Greater Athletic Performance and Efficiency

Auburn University's Football Performance Center in Auburn, Ala., is scheduled to open in the fall of 2022 and has been described as nothing short of "mind-blowing." Among its many recruit-attracting amenities, the school will unveil a cutting-edge performance-optimizing department using the Falcon Pursuit athletic avatar technology: 3-D scans of athletes (football, gymnasts and swimmers), combined with AI intelligence, create computational fluid dynamics models or avatars of each athlete.

Uniforms, helmets and equipment can be customized to drag-resistant perfection. But more impressively, its patent-pending Avatar Rendering Engine (ARE) will create 3-D, full-scale performance profiles enabling coaches to review throws, runs and other movements to identify every weakness, strength and possible projected means of improvement.

Auburn's state-of-the-art, $92 million, 233,400-square-foot facility will showcase next-level, one-stop-shopping design as well, in which all athletic amenities and needs will be serviced under one collective roof to eliminate the need for students to go to and from one side of campus to the other.

Greater efficiency is the mantra of the day. The new $85 million construction of University of Florida's Heavener Football Training Center, for example, has designed efficiency into the smallest details affecting the flow of the building's interior. The Gators' meeting room design was changed to add multiple doors so players can exit more quickly to the field to maximize time during their limited 20-hour NCAA-mandated week. Every minute counts.