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Herd fans will be wowed by new facility

LAWRENCE PIERCE | Gazette Measuring roughly 450 feet long, 240 feet wide and 70 feet high at its center, Marshall’s new indoor practice facility will be ready for football and practice in several other sports. At top left is a goal post that will be lowered for kicking practice; the full-size football field is decorated with mats used in field events in track. Netting is all around the ceiling, with batting cages at back left.
LAWRENCE PIERCE | Gazette MU athletic director Mike Hamrick shows one concession made to accommodate the new six-lane track -- it cuts the corner of the football field. The track will soon be covered with a rubberized surface and lined. There will be eight sprint lanes.
LAWRENCE PIERCE | Gazette At the 20,000-square-foot sports medicine center, workers carve out the depth needed for a hydrotherapy pool.
LAWRENCE PIERCE | Gazette From Third Avenue, the indoor practice facility is the tallest building, but hardly the only one under construction. The Hall of Fame building will feature a prominent entry way, and will be surrounded by the student academic and sports medicine buildings. The Bobby Pruett Training Center (front left) opened in 2006.

Marshall’s latest “pipe dream” measures about 450 feet long and 240 feet wide, with the roof raising to 70 feet high.

That’s 108,000 square feet, give or take. That number could represent the odds given by many cynics and pessimistic Thundering Herd fans — as in 108,000-to-1 — on whether the long-argued indoor practice facility would ever be built.

Has it been 12 years since football coach Bob Pruett, seemingly out of the blue, trumpeted the need for such a building? Yes, but it seems longer, with all the angst among coaches and the fan base.

The hand-wringing is over, kids. I’ve stepped in the building twice in the past week, and it’s the real deal. All the hot air expended over this issue in a dozen years can’t fill this place up.

How big is it?

For those Thundering Herd fans who remember East Tennessee State’s “Mini Dome,” the main football/basketball arena portion of that tin can is smaller than MU’s building by 20,000 square feet. And remember, the Johnson City building once housed 14,000 for a basketball game!

It’s that big. Upon my first look inside, I uttered, “Holy Toledo!” Others have exclaimed, “Holy [something else]!”

If you don’t have Tyler Williams punting through the ceiling, you can play a football game here. There will be legitimate indoor track meets, collegiate or scholastic. You’d have an awfully short porch in one direction for a baseball game, but you can fit a softball contest in if you wanted — and probably have room left for the world’s largest Twister game if MU students were so motivated.

Practice buildings with 90-yard fields and no tracks need not apply. Bubbles can’t hang.

This building is what the MU community wanted, and there is no reason it won’t open by the Sept. 1 target. Congratulations all the way around.

If you’ve been around Huntington for years and know how things work — and, sometimes, how they don’t — you may think this is too good to be true. Is this really happening, and is it being done right?

Always a good question at MU. The football stadium, another “pipe dream,” rescued the program from a decrepit former home, but the 2001 expansion was poorly thought out and the concourses need to be widened by double. Basketball’s Cam Henderson Center is worthy of implosion, and baseball ... oh, never mind.

As he pounded the pavement for donors to the Vision Campaign, MU Athletic Director Mike Hamrick’s goal was not only to build the practice building and adjacent projects, but to build them right the first time and do it to last several decades.

That seems to be accomplished at the new soccer complex a few blocks to the east, and it seems to be happening off to the football stadium’s east side.

“I don’t think there’s any question that every aspect of this project is the right way. It’s first class,” said the sixth-year A.D. “Cost was really not the top issue. The issue was, ‘What are we going to do that’s going to look good in 15, 20, 25, 30 years, and be usable?’ And we’ve done that; there’s no question we’ve done that.

“And the reason why I know that, first of all I see it. And there are so many people that know this business that have said the same things.

“So from the turf, to the track, to the lights, to the netting system, to the academic center, the sports medicine center to everything in the Hall of Fame, top-notch, first-class.”

The practice building seems to be so simple, yet it’s imposing. Goal posts, batting cages and all manner of netting hang throughout the ceiling, all ready to drop down and serve the appropriate sport. As promised, there is a pristine, turfed football field, the regulation 53 1/3 by 120 yards. The track, about to be surfaced and lined, cuts across the corners of the gridiron, but not too far.

But that’s hardly all. When the building is dedicated for Vision Campaign donors, they’ll see all that other work taking place. Those projects are the long-overdue MU Athletics Hall of Fame, the 20,000-square-foot sports medicine center and a 13,000-square-foot student academic complex.

The Hall of Fame will bring all the elements of MU sports history in one spot for the first time. There will be interactive exhibits — for example, how would you like to push a large Mike D’Antoni button and see highlights from the star point guard of the 1970s on an 80-inch screen?

The Hall is due to open Oct. 24, the day before the Herd takes on Florida Atlantic in football. Officials are shooting for a December opening for the academic center and a spring opening for the sports medicine building.

Place a few buffaloes in the front (OK, three really nice ones at a total $1 million), and this complex will make Herd fans proud.

Trust me on this: The $42 million is being put to good use. That amount is the full tab, including the soccer stadium, improvements to the football stadium and the Henderson Center, the new skyboxes (which will pay for themselves in time) and all.

Ticket buyers are backing $10 million in bonds, with Vision Campaign donors bringing in the rest. All need to take a bow, for a vision is being fulfilled.

“That’s not an arms race with the Alabamas and Texases of the world,” Hamrick said. “We can’t compete with their resources. But we can build excellent facilities to take care of our student-athletes.”

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dougsmock.


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