COLUMBUS, Ohio — The sun beats down, blindingly bright but not uncomfortably hot.
From the edge of one of Ohio State’s three football practice fields, the names roll out of history like familiar books tumbling off a shelf.
Over there to the right is Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, housing soccer and track and further immortalizing an American hero and cultural icon. Across the way is the Jack Nicklaus Museum, a tribute to mankind’s greatest golfer. Behind you is the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex, honoring one of college football’s true lions. And a bit off in the distance is the OSU Alumni House, where Archie Griffin, 40-odd years later still the game’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, was president for 12 years.
“The names,” said associate director for communications Jerry Emig, “it’s like a Mount Rushmore.”
If Ohio State University is a crown among Central Ohio, then the school’s stunning athletic facilities are the crown jewels.
This place is brilliant. Dazzling. More than 13,000 square feet of modern architectural excellence and proud football heritage.
Overlooking the state-of-the-art strength training room is a state-of-the-art dining facility. Down the stairs s a state-of-the-art locker room … well, you get the idea.
A recent $19.5 million upgrade to a facility originally dedicated in 1987 makes coach Urban Meyer’s job a whole lot easier. What promising young recruit wouldn’t want to spend four years in such a palace?
When Meyer finishes his radio call-in show, he flits around the dining room greeting each guest, shaking each hand, worried about his upcoming opponent’s offense—Tulsa, which comes to town Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff, is a sister offense to Baylor, Meyer aptly summarizes—but not worried about his team’s facilities.
This is the essence of college football’s arms race.
For the public, the highlight is the glass-building trophy room that houses the Buckeyes’ eight national championship trophies (two of those are disputed) and seven Heisman Trophies, as well as every bowl trophy the program has ever won. There are plenty of other displays that would remind Oklahomans of a Barry Switzer Center or perhaps a more football-oriented Heritage Hall. Another dynamic element of this enormous trophy case is a small theater that plays hype videos and a thundering, almost ear-splitting audio soundtrack on a loop. It puts fans in the gameday mood, to be sure.
For players, coaches and especially recruits, however, the best parts are behind closed doors.
The knock-your-socks-off element is a long corridor in which recruits are blown away by helmet-shaped chairs and a wall-sized Nike display and video monitors and a tribute to OSU’s rivalry with That Team Up North (that would be Michigan to non-Ohioans), among other things. It’s a roughly hundred-yard walk through a glorious past polished with a decidedly modern shine.
Without a doubt, the coolest part is an ancient chalkboard purportedly unearthed from a forgotten closet in the old ROTC building and containing the ramblings — football and otherwise — of one Woody Hayes, including references to “borrowers, spys & traito(rs), dictators” and some lost point about Walter Johnson, Red Grange, 4 Horsemen and Cy Young. If authentic, it’s the college football equivalent of cave drawings: the images or words are crystal clear, but their meaning is buried in mystery.
The guts of the operation are just as swanky. The weight room is spacious and efficient. The hot and cold tub, underwater treadmill and recovery chamber so filled with Epsom salts that players actually fall asleep while they’re floating weightless sit just outside a massive athletic training room. There are murals around every corner depicting Ohio State’s superiority (real or perceived) to all but the upper one percent of college football.
It’s the kind of holistic facility Oklahoma completed in 2010 before tearing everything out and beginning again with something even grander, something that will be covered with construction dust for at least the next six months, something that ultimately, along with OU’s stadium renovation and bowling in of the Sooners’ south end zone, costs some $160 million.
It’s the kind of blend of striking structural beauty and ideal functionality that Boone Pickens bought for Oklahoma State, changing the face and future of the OSU program and, truthfully, helping inspire the Sooners’ do-over.
It’s the kind of luxury even the smallest of college football’s small programs aspires to: Tulsa and its 3,473 undergrads (Ohio State has 58,663), complete with its own underwater treadmills and hot and cold tubs and glossy tributes to the program’s legacy shine throughout the Case Athletic Center.
Hey, Ohio State has a statue of Woody Hayes. TU has a statue of Glenn Dobbs.