Building for the Future of Collegiate Athletes

DPR's Bryan McCaffrey shares five key considerations universities should be thinking about when constructing collegiate athletic facilities that will last.

In the competitive landscape of collegiate athletics, facilities play a pivotal role in attracting and recruiting top-tier athletes and students, while also creating a sense of school pride, increasing licensing revenue and extending the overall campus experience for students, faculty, and alumni.

Changes in collegiate athletics adds complexity to facilities. As programs seek competitive advantages, staying ahead of emerging trends is vital. At the same time, there is significant pressure on design and construction teams for on-time delivery, unique designs, and staying within budget.

Bryan McCaffrey, DPR Construction project executive and sports & athletics expert, shares five key considerations universities should be thinking about to construct a facility with a competitive edge.

FAU sports facility

1. The Impacts of NIL on Student-Athletes Needs

Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) reforms are changing the landscape of collegiate sports and reshaping not only student-athlete compensation but also transforming university sports programs NIL comprises new challenges and opportunities.

These NIL changes affect the way design, construction and development of athletic facilities take place. Demands for technology advancements, updated multipurpose spaces, and brand visibility all influence the way facilities will be constructed.

"As NIL reshapes the ways collegiate athletic program’s function, construction on university campuses will take on new direction. These facilities will need to be upgraded quickly. These spaces will need to be able to accommodate and meet the competition of both Olympic and non-Olympic sports. There are universities that have already met those needs but are facing higher expectations and desire to level up to accommodate media and production,” said McCaffrey.

By aligning the construction efforts with the opportunities presented by NIL, universities have to upgrade their facilities to better support the wholistic needs of student-athletes.

FAU sports facility

2. Seeing Student-Athletes as a “Total Person”

Student Affairs leaders and athletic programs are giving greater consideration to how their spaces address the comprehensive needs of student-athletes in order to support their long-term success. For example, there is an increased focus on the mental health and wellness of every student. By going beyond the basic amenities, universities can work with their construction and design teams to implement elements that promote physical and mental wellness, academic success and provide a sense of belonging not just to their team but also to their school.

“Incorporating health and wellness spaces to accommodate therapy and tutoring sessions, mobility training, sports science, nutrition, cryo and hydrotherapy, business centers and more are a few of the important considerations to take care of these student-athletes and what they expect their programs to offer,” said McCaffrey. From building state-of-the-art training spaces to dedicated study areas and wellness centers, renovations should support the comprehensive needs of student-athletes.

FAU sports facility

3. The Importance of On Time Delivery

Timing the construction of these facilities to be completed for seasonal trainings and academic calendars is key. Collaboration between universities, design partners and construction project teams can provide effective project management and coordination to ensure projects are completed on schedule, allowing schools to reap the full benefits of the upgraded facility.

On-time delivery means the whole construction process does not need to disrupt ongoing school programs, class schedules, training schedules and game days. In fact, delaying construction activities can lead to several disruptions, budget pressures and logistical challenges.

“Upgraded athletic facilities play a pivotal role in attracting top-tier student-athletes to universities,” McCaffrey said. “Timely completion of projects opens doors to showcase the upgrades to prospective recruits, enhancing the university’s appeal and competitiveness in recruiting battles.”

FAU sports facility

4. Aesthetics

Aesthetics plays a crucial role when renovating athletic spaces as it is imperative these facilities foster pride, not only for the student-athletes, but also for coaches, students, alumni, the community, and fans.

“With how competitive collegiate athletic programs have become, the look and feel of these buildings just might be the competitive advantage needed to position themselves as a top destination for student-athletes, coaches, and fans,” said McCaffrey.

Sports facilities should provide an inspirational and motivational space for student-athletes to feel like they can perform at their best. Partnering with design firms that align with the university’s vision can lead to a thoughtful-yet-eye-catching space that builds pride.

McCaffrey added: “The mindset of a student-athlete is that they know they are the best. They demand excellence at whatever university they choose to go to, and their decision is based on which school can provide the best for them to succeed as an athlete. They want hi-tech capabilities in the locker rooms, upgraded weight rooms, bold colors, and vivid graphics. They want to feel the full experience of being a professional athlete in a college session.”

Aesthetics also plays into the overall fan experience and atmosphere during sporting events. Well-designed facilities with immersive branding elements create a memorable and enjoyable environment for all attending the sporting events.

Exterior view of FAU sports facility
Bryan McCaffrey

“Upgraded athletic facilities play a pivotal role in attracting top-tier student-athletes to universities, timely completion of projects opens doors to showcase the upgrades to prospective recruits, enhancing the university’s appeal and competitiveness in recruiting battles.”

Bryan McCaffrey, Project Executive

5. Constructability

This doesn’t mean compromising on design as much as working together as one design and construction team to ensure the intended vision comes together. This can include a close look at material selection, functionality, durability, cost-effectiveness, and timely completion.

Materials that are chosen for sports facility renovations need to meet the functional requirements of the space. When considering functionality and performance, factors like durability, traction, maintenance requirements all play an important role when trying to ensure optimal performance standards and safety for athletes and spectators.

Due to the regular use of the facility, meticulously selecting durable material is essential for minimizing maintenance costs and create longevity of the renovations and creates long-term value.

“Selecting materials that are easily available, ready to install and compatible with existing infrastructure can streamline construction processes and reduce labor costs,” McCaffrey said “Though not commonly used, prefabrication might offer advantages of speed to market and efficiency. Working with a skilled contractor in concert with the design team can unlock these options.”

McCaffrey added: “Every university can construct and design unique buildings without having to spend a lot of money. It’s all about understanding the long-term needs of your campus and being flexible and knowledgeable about the non-negotiable materials and design intent of your space. A good partner is key to navigate that decision making process and deliver the best facility to fit those needs.”

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