Virginia Athletics broke ground on its years-in-the-making $80 million football operations center on Thursday, and no, it will not have a 20-foot indoor slide, a bowling alley, anything of that sort.
The two-story, 90,000-square-foot facility will house locker rooms, strength and conditioning spaces, nutrition spaces, team meeting spaces, sports medicine areas for treatment and recovery, as well as coaches’ offices, video operations and building support spaces for Virginia Football adjacent to the existing indoor practice facility.
All the important stuff, just without the flash.
“Not to single out any facilities, I won’t talk about what I think flash is, or could be considered flashy,” athletics director Carla Williams said. “For us, a state-of-the-art sports medicine facility within this building is pretty flashy. It’s no secret when you look at what we have, and you think about where we’re going, it’s all flashy, right? But we have tried to focus on the need and meeting the need of our student-athletes.
“We think there are so many other things that are also important: making sure we develop the whole person is important, being part of not just the UVA community, but the Charlottesville community. So, there are lots of things that go along with the facility,” Williams said.
“Our players are so appreciative that we are getting this facility. They aren’t looking for flash, right? They’re looking for a facility that they know can help them compete for championships, and they’ll have that,” Williams said.
The schedule has construction being done in 2024, but not soon enough for the football program to be able to move in ahead of the 2024 fall season, so that move is projected to come in the spring of 2025, Williams said.
So, we’re still a few years out, from shovels in the ground to football being able to move in.
Patience has been key on this effort. It was back in 2018 that the University of Virginia Board of Visitors moved forward with the planning for the football ops center as part of an overall master plan for athletics.
“The approval was three and a half years ago, but we started working on it literally day two,” said Williams, who began her tenure as AD in December 2017. “My second day here, we took a tour of the facilities and saw the need, not just the need for football, but the need for our Olympic sports, was profound. That’s when we started.”
The groundbreaking on the football facility gets Virginia Athletics closer to being able to begin work on the Olympic sports complex, with construction on that project projected in the spring of 2023, and the eventual renovation of the McCue Center, which will begin when the football program moves out in 2025.
The overall price tag for all of the work is $180 million.
This just in: that’s a lot of money.
It does say something about the culture at the University of Virginia that it’s not all being spent on football.
“I think it’s more difficult and a testament to the people that came before me how well this athletic department has done with so many sports,” said Williams, who oversaw Virginia’s 31st national title this spring, in men’s tennis.
“That’s hard to do. It is hard to win championships – not just ACC championships but national championships, across multiple sports. It’s a great thing,” Williams said. “We just talked about Title IX. We’re champions of opportunity, so there are opportunities to be had for all of our student-athletes. They take full advantage of it. They compete hard in the classroom and their sport. For us, we see it as a strength, because our alums, our donors, love a broad-based, successful athletics program. We just have to add football into that equation.”
Football, yes, does pay a lot of bills for Virginia Athletics. Revenues from the football program amounted to $43 million in 2019-2020, about 40 percent of the overall total brought in that academic sports year.
Former coach Bronco Mendenhall, who was on staff as the bulk of the planning for the new football operations center was being done, made the point early and often that Virginia Football was woefully behind its peers in Power 5 in terms of facilities and staffing.
“It was last August that Bronco said we were dead last in the ACC in our facilities. I’ve kept him abreast of the progress, because he’s interested, because he cares. So, we are, with the completion of this facility, having made the enhancements we’ve already made from a personnel standpoint, which was huge, and that helped, we’re in a much, much better place,” Williams said.
“I think one of the great things about UVA and one of the things that quite frankly attracted me to UVA is that every sport has the University to sell in recruiting,” Williams said. “You can never underestimate the value of a UVA degree, education. All of our coaches use that. I use that. So, the facilities will enhance that. The personnel additions will enhance that. So, we’re on our way. We’ve got a lot to do, because no one’s standing still.”
Story by Chris Graham