YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — North Dakota State honchos will tour the wonderful Watson and Tressel Training Site on the campus of Youngstown State University this weekend, but it sounds like more of a wish-list visit than anything else.
It needs to be more than that, sometime relatively soon, if the Bison hope to keep up with the Joneses in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The WATTS is an indoor practice facility just an Easton Stick pass away from Stambaugh Stadium, where the Bison will play the Penguins in a highly anticipated FCS Division I football game Saturday. The Penguins were the first team in the league to have an indoor practice facility. South Dakota State has a brand-spanking-new indoor building in Brookings and future MVFC member North Dakota also has a new indoor facility.
Yes, the facilities arms race has trickled down to the second-level of Division I.
“We are actually planning on touring the practice facility at Youngstown on Saturday,” NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said. “We do not have any formal plans at this time for a facility at NDSU, but it is definitely something that I believe needs to be in our future.”
To be clear, buildings like the WATTS are not just for football. Track, golf, soccer, baseball, softball — pretty much any team — can practice indoors in these huge buildings. But the largest banners hanging in Youngstown State’s facility celebrate the football team’s national championships from the 1990s and 2000s.
The WATTS was completed in 2011 and houses a full synthetic-turf football and soccer practice field, a 300-meter track, two long-jump pits, four batting cages and an artificial turf golf practice green.
NDSU has an indoor track building already and previous athletic director Gene Taylor secured the practice bubble the Bison currently use. But the WATTS — what SDSU and UND have — are different. They are next-level facilities.
“The bubble over Dacotah Field has shown the positive impact an indoor facility can have on our outdoor programs. The bubble however has a shelf life and is only up for 6 months out of the year,” Larsen said. “I believe an indoor facility not only allows our coaches to train our current student-athletes in optimal conditions, but no question, can also have a significant impact on recruiting.”
The issue is, of course, what it always is — money. Youngstown State built the WATTS for $14 million — with some rough patches along the way after ground was broken in 2007. It took four years to complete. The first $1 million was donated by former Penguins coach and current school president Jim Tressel and his wife Ellen, and Frank and Norma Watson, who made their money with a welding company.
The cost has gone up. SDSU’s facility cost an estimated $32 million and UND’s was about $20 million.
Taylor and NDSU had a heck of a time raising the money needed for the new Sanford Health Athletic Complex basketball arena that opened last year. Where would the money come from for an indoor practice facility?
The easy wisecrack to make is: Philadelphia. That’s where former Bison quarterback Carson Wentz, if he continues his upward trajectory as a young star in the NFL, is set to make massive money when he signs his next contract.
But that is at once presumptive and a dream.
Larsen said NDSU isn’t far enough along in the process to have an estimated price, nor has it began any fundraising for an indoor facility.
But it’s coming. Someday.
“The trend regionally and nationally shows several institutions located in extreme climates, either very hot or very cold, are building or planning for permanent, indoor practice facilities,” Larsen said.