BLOOMINGTON — When Indiana unveiled its new $8.5 million Terry Tallen Football Complex last week, IU football players celebrated by jumping around the new space and singing the fight song.
The 25,000-square-foot area under the west stands of Memorial Stadium includes a new locker room, training area and players’ lounge.
“We’re a work in progress,” IU sophomore running back Stevie Scott III said. “We’re just improving everything, like this new center right here and a new locker room. So I feel like we’re coming up to par with everybody else. Like I said, we’re getting there.”
In the cutthroat world of Big Ten football recruiting, though, building bigger and shinier facilities is the norm rather than the exception. This week, Illinois opened its $79.2 million, 107,650-square-foot football facility, which includes an expanded weight room, sports medicine suites and players’ lounge with a bowling alley, game room and barber shop.
“It’s a little like Christmas Day,” Illinois football coach Lovie Smith said of the opening.
Up the road in West Lafayette, Purdue completed its 112,000 square foot Kozuch Football Complex in 2017. At a price tag of $65 million, the three-story building includes an 11,600-square-foot weight room, 20,900-square-foot locker room and 5,800-square-foot sports medicine and hydrotherapy rooms.
“We’re thankful for everything we’ve got,” Purdue football coach Jeff Brohm said. “I think it makes a difference in the recruiting world. You’ve got to showcase that you’ve got a place to house them, help them achieve their goals. From our weight room to locker room to offices to equipment room to training room, connected to the indoor practice fields right outside of our stadium right next to it, I think it’s tremendous.”
Northwestern’s new combination indoor practice facility and football complex, built in 2018 for $260 million, overlooks Lake Michigan, with glass windows providing panoramic views of the lake for players. Penn State’s indoor football facility, the Lasch Building, is undergoing a $69 million renovation which will include an expanded strength and conditioning facility, upgraded coaches’ offices and team meeting rooms.
IU athletics director Fred Glass took the approach of upgrading football facilities within Memorial Stadium, rather than constructing a stand-alone football facility. The Tallen Complex, which came from a donation from former IU football captain Terry Tallen, was the latest piece to the plan. Glass has devoted $300 million to athletic facilities improvements since he took over as IU’s athletics director in 2009, with many of the projects funded by private donations.
“I left (IU) in 1981 as a senior and then came back as athletic director in 2009, and visibly the athletic facilities weren’t a whole lot different,” Glass said. “It was evident that we were falling behind, and in the Big Ten we were in danger of falling further behind in the strata of facilities. The infrastructure initiative was much needed, and we’re going to cap that off with the renovation of Armstrong Stadium.”
Football-wise, IU started with the $38 million renovation to enclose the north end zone of Memorial Stadium in 2009, adding 100,000 square feet for team meeting rooms, coach’s offices and a 25,000-square-foot weight room. Enclosing the south end zone followed in 2018, a $53 million project that provided 117,000 square feet for sports medicine rehabilitation, elite athletic development and a sports nutrition center.
The locker room area for IU football players, though, remained out of date until the recent Tallen renovation.
“The whole thing that I’ve focused on is getting this locker room right. Let’s make sure we nail this and get everything it needs to be and done the right way,” IU football coach Tom Allen said. “The player’s lounge and all the stuff around that, and so I love the fact that when you walk in the north end zone it’s going to have a football-only feel. If you walk down the elevator, you walk down the steps, if you come in that main entrance, it’s football. You are stepping into the football complex.”
The Tallen Complex is football only, but IU football players share many of its other facilities underneath Memorial Stadium, including the weight room, with athletes of the other 23 sports on campus. Glass said it is in part philosophical, as the Indiana AD wants athletes from all sports supporting and pushing one another.
“It’s large enough where it can be shared,” Glass said. “I think it’s over 25,000 square feet, which compares extraordinarily favorably if you look at other weight rooms that football programs tout as football only. There’s plenty of room. Our guys never go without, and our guys, I think, actually enjoy working out with other teams.”
Enclosing both ends of Memorial Stadium came through a mix of private donations and athletic operating funds, which have been bolstered since the Big Ten Network was launched in 2007. In 2018, IU made $123 million in athletic revenue, with $51 million coming from Big Ten Network and other media rights deals.
IU’s use of Big Ten Network funds has come under scrutiny. In 2015, the school announced it was devoting $26 million in Big Ten Network funds toward the $53 million Global and International Studies Building, an academic project. That project is being paid over time at $1.6 million per year, though, which is a fraction of IU’s $123 million athletic budget.
IU isn’t the only school in the conference that has devoted Big Ten Network money to academic projects. Purdue athletics donated $12 million in Big Ten Network funds over a six-year period to the Krach Leadership Center. Iowa gave back $4 million in athletic funds to its school over a two-year period, and Michigan sent $3 million in athletic funds to academics to create endowed chair positions.
To IU alum and athletics booster Brian Davidson, all Big Ten Network money should be earmarked toward athletics. Davidson said it is critical based on the challenges IU football faces in gameday revenue compared to traditional Big Ten football powers Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. A 2004 Kelly School graduate who owns a digital marketing company in Chicago, Davidson ran for a position on IU’s board of trustees using athletics spending as part of his platform. He lost in the election last June.
“IU can say improvement and no one can dispute that,” Davidson said. “All of our facilities have improved across the board in the last 10 years, during Fred Glass’s tenure, in that respect. However, when they compare IU facilities to Big Ten facilities and in some cases SEC facilities or Pac 12 facilities, in many ways the recruits themselves will tell you they don’t compare.”
Glass has pointed to other areas where he’s devoted to football resources, such as paying to keep IU’s strength and conditioning staff after they were pursued by the Miami Dolphins and spending a record salary for an IU assistant for new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer ($800,000 with bonuses that can push the salary up to $1 million). Allen and his staff, to their credit, have managed to recruit back-to-back Top-40 national classes by selling a family atmosphere at IU.
Glass said IU will continue to make investments into football as technology and players evolve. Whether that’s enough to keep up with the rest of the Big Ten remains to be seen.
“It’s a little bit like King’s Island,” Glass said. “There’s going to be a new ride every year for King’s Island. I think your football program, for your recruits, your coaches but most importantly for your current players, you’ve got to show you care. You’ve got to show that you’re not pulling up the drawbridge. You’ve got to keep making investments, and we’re going to continue to do that with our football program.”