Mar 29, 2017

Think of the locker room as the office (and it better look good, coaches say)

In recent months, we talked to a handful of major college football coaches about facilities. One told us the must-see element of his facility is “always the locker room.” One coach told us the first area he’d update would be his locker room. One coach told us he’d take a recruit to the newest area in his facility, and “it had better be the locker room.”

This was all the same coach.

Indeed, the heart of the modern college athletic facility is the locker room, and the weight room isn’t far behind, coaches say.

When the AFCA convention was in Nashville earlier this year, we took the opportunity to talk to head coaches and assistants about their facilities in general terms. We spoke to coaches who had worked for both Advent clients and non-clients.

We asked coaches what the must-see areas of their facilities are, in other words, the places where they feel like they have the greatest chance of sending a powerful message to prospects and families.

One coach told us the most updated area was his must-see area. Another said his facility was so out of date, that he opted to use the campus at-large as a showpiece.

Almost uniformly, though, coaches told us the locker room was the most important locale for recruits to see.

“The thing kids are always looking for is the locker room, the weight room,” one Pac-12 coach told us. “A lot of kids now, what they want to see are the locker room, weight room and indoor [practice] facility.”

Indeed, for most programs, the locker room is where football players prepare for gameday and daily practice. Moreover, the locker room provides a sanctuary where athletes aren’t subject to double-takes from fellow students, Instagram requests from fans or scrutiny from media.

Coaches believe parents and recruits use the locker room as a signal for how much the coach or the university values them, their space and their experience.

“You’re sending a message,” the Big 12 coach told us. “That’s where they live. You’re telling them they’re important.”

Players agree, even those who are beyond the recruiting process. Even as he was preparing for the NFL Draft, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas remembered how the locker room reinforced certain messages and values.

“I felt attached to Stanford, the vibe there,” Thomas told The Dan Patrick Show. “The locker room was really special. It wasn’t everybody about themselves. it was about a team collective goal. I thought that was really special.”

Beyond the locker room itself, one coach found that it can serve as the heart of the visit experience to lead recruits to engage with other areas, such as the recruiting lounge.

“The way we laid ours out, they’re engaged with everything,” the Pac-12 coach told us. “At first, [our athletic department] talked about putting our recruiting lounge separate from our locker room. I said, ‘No, it will be sitting empty.’ We put it with our locker room and they’re engaged with it all the time.”

The locker room — and other player workspaces such as the meeting rooms, weight room and players’ lounge — should be at the top of the list of any facility renovation, coaches say. It can have a direct impact on wins and losses.

“If you’re starting from scratch and prioritizing, anything that deals with the players needs to be prioritized — locker rooms, meeting rooms,” one Conference USA coach told us. “You can have crappy coaches’ offices, but if you’ve got a great locker room, meeting room, training room and practice facility, you can win.”

This is the first in a series of posts featuring feedback on facilities from FBS coaches and assistants at the AFCA convention. Advent worked on locker rooms with a handful of Division I programs, including Florida State, Auburn, Boston College, Vanderbilt and Louisiana Tech.