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The new vision for athletics

Varsity Village will help UC compete

By John Bach

When a coach says his team is in a rebuilding year, most understand that is a polite way of saying the current players really aren't good enough. But when athletic director Bob Goin evaluates UC's sports facilities, he doesn't waste time being polite. In fact, he says the current athletic complex is so poor it hurts UC's chances to contend for the region's top recruits.

"We don't have the accommodations befitting a Division I program," Goin says. "When you visit universities across the country and walk in the front door of their athletic complex, it shows a comprehensive program of excellence. We are a little behind on that. We are not behind in Shoemaker Center and Nippert Stadium. Those are beautiful facilities. But we need to get baseball, soccer, track and all our sports to that level."

To get to that level, however, athletics needed a vision, and the vision is Varsity Village, a $60- to $65-million plan that calls for a new athletic center, reconstructed all-weather practice and recreation fields, a relocated baseball field and a new tennis complex. The new athletic center, scheduled for completion by 2004, is at the heart of Varsity Village and will be a major new campus building between Shoemaker and Daniels Hall, requiring the demolition of the Sander Annex and Dabney Hall.

When all is complete, Goin hopes athletes will experience the convenience of a village atmosphere where everything they need, from housing to conditioning to academic help, is nearby with fields open around the clock for both varsity and recreational needs. "We are an urban university," he says. "There is no changing that, so we need to play to our strength and have easy access into good facilities."

Access will be key to the new athletic center, which will centralize administrative and coaching offices that are currently scattered throughout Laurence Hall, an outdated facility to be torn down when the new Student Recreation Center is constructed as part of the campus MainStreet project.

"I've seen better high school accommodations than what we have here for our coaches," Goin adds. "This athletic center is crucial to taking our program to the next level."

illustration/courtesy of HOK Sport

Proposals for Varsity Village call for a new front-door facility. Illustration/courtesy of HOK Sport

UC's new front-door facility for athletics will make a strong first impression on recruits that might be deciding between the Bearcats and another regional powerhouse. "We will become the university of choice," AD Goin says. "This will allow us to compete with the Kentuckys, the Purdues, the Indianas and the Louisvilles."

The new building is set to include an athletics hall of fame, reception and meeting space, a new two-level academic services center, an easily accessed ticket office, new locker facilities, a centralized sports medicine training/rehabilitation suite and a two-court practice gym. Existing recreational space in Shoemaker will also be rebuilt for varsity athletics. Most noted of the improvements will be a new 15,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center, which is twice as large as the current weight room.

The Meyers Field soccer/ track complex will be adjusted to a standard field size, complete with new lighting and expanded seating for spectators. An eight-court tennis complex with a central grandstand will also be constructed in the village. Johnny Bench Field, which lacks space for parking, locker rooms and seating, will be relocated, possibly off campus.

illustration/courtesy of Hargreaves Associates

Varsity Village will relocate Johnny Bench Field and reconstruct the track and practice fields. Illustration/courtesy of Hargreaves Associates

"When moms and dads bring their most cherished possession here, we want them to say, 'Oh my,'" Goin says.

But that wow factor comes at a price. Paying for the project is a magnified challenge, particularly since the state does not contribute capital dollars toward athletic programs.

Supporters, however, have already proven they are behind the project, giving about $10 million even before final plans and drawings were in place. "Over the years, we have developed a strong relationship with a wide range of individuals and friends," says Bill Mulvihill, senior associate athletic director. "Alumni and friends will be very important to how intercollegiate athletics fits into the vision for a first-class university."

Mulvihill stresses the need for proper facilities that will allow young athletes to develop physically and mentally. "Just like the university wants to attract the best and brightest students, we want to attract the best and brightest student athletes."


UCATS Web site


UC Magazine's "Explore campus" including photos of the completed Varsity Village