The story of the University of Oregon’s new football operations center has been interesting from the get-go. With the $68 million, 130,000 square foot operations center set to open for the 2013 season, now is as a good time as ever to reflect on how the project came to life, and what it will include once done.
The most unique part of this building project isn’t the final product itself, but the way in which it is being constructed. Back in 2010, Oregon decided to lease the land surrounding Autzen Stadium to alumnus and Nike co-founder Phil Knight. This essentially gave a private company the ability to build on public land. At the end of the project, Knight will send the center back to Oregon as a gift. It’s not the first time Knight has done this on the University of Oregon campus, but it’s not something routinely seen in other athletic departments. The closest example is Louisiana State University where the Tiger Athletic Foundation constructs all projects and then gifts them to the athletic department once all debt is paid.
The arrangement with Knight brings up two issues. First, it must be noted that traditionally the impending construction of most buildings on a public university is opened up to a public bidding process, in which the most qualified company that can deliver the project at the cheapest price is chosen to construct the project. Thus, the fact that Oregon is essentially circumventing this process and going through private means is a departure from the norm.
Next, this brings up the issue of oversight. This kind of set-up allows Knight to control the design of the expansion and avoid public oversight. This has been a sticking point for many on the outside looking in who feel the project lacks transparency.
As for the actual look of the new operations center, less is known than with most athletic building projects. Because the project is being privately funded and built, the athletic department has less control over the outcome. Some features which have been discussed include a 25,000-square-foot weight room, climate-controlled lockers with iPod docks, and a cafeteria that will be open to all University students.
All of this looks great, especially with Knight footing the bill. However, although Knight is handling construction, the building does not come without costs for Oregon. For example, after Knight built the $41 million Jacqua Academic Center for Student Athletes, the university was obligated to pay $2 million per year for operations expenses, some of it coming from the academic budget. Senior associate athletic director Craig Pintens explains that academic support reports to the Provost’s office, and therefore that department pays the programming costs. However, the athletic department pays 2/3rds of the operations and maintenance costs.
The new project will bring its own operating costs, which will become the responsibility of the athletic department much like any other new athletic facility. According to the Register-Guard, “In the contract signed two years ago, the university agreed to staff the [new football operations] center — for six years — with a facilities manager, museum curator, museum receptionist, food service administrator and a senior administrative assistant for football operations. The building’s maintenance is also on the university’s nickel.” However, Pintens tells us the athletic department will cover 100 percent of the building’s costs.
The new operations center will help alleviate strain on the Casanova Center, which currently houses operations for every sport, including football. Since the Casanova Center was built in 1991, Oregon has added three sports and over 100 employees to the building with no expansion of the building’s footprint.
It’s also worth noting Oregon’s athletic department has seen a vast change in its finances over the past decade. In 2004-2005, the athletic department’s NCAA disclosure showed a net loss of $131,198. However, in 2010-2011 the department showed net revenue of over $9.5 million. The athletic department relied on no direct institutional support from the university in 2010-2011, although it did take in student fees of $1.4 million. The athletic department says those student fees cover football and basketball tickets and that none of those funds will be used for the operation of the new building. The increased success and exposure of the Oregon athletics department has led to licensing revenue growing from $750,000 in 2004-2005 to $2.25 million in 2010-2011, with the majority of revenue being retained by the University.
Knowing all this, is there reason for concern over the finances of the new operations center? What is your opinion on this project at the University of Oregon? Have they bolstered their facilities to a level that is necessary for recruitment of new players, or have they gone overboard? Is Knight commanding too much control at Oregon? Leave your comments below.
Editor’s Note: The original article posted July 23, 2012 contained several inaccuracies and has been edited following conversations with the University of Oregon.