Crumbling athletic facilities set back UA

The main pool at the Hillenbrand Aquatics Center, 50 meters by 25 yards, has been in use since 1971. The pool is only 7.5 feet deep compared to most modern pools that are at least 10 feet. (Photo by: Brandon James, Arizona Sonora News)

When Greg Byrne became University of Arizona’s athletic director in May of 2010, he was determined to bandage UA’s aging sports facilities. Letting them slowly crumble and not meet the standards of the 21st century was not a choice.

Getting the movement going would not be easy. After all, UA’s annual budget was $84 million. Compare that to the University of Alabama’s annual budget of $186 million.

A number of renovations have been made to the 45-year-old McKale Center and to the almost century year old Arizona Stadium to keep up with the Stanfords and UCLAs. The baseball team left campus for Hi Corbett Field in 2012 for a much more updated, modern facility.

The patches Byrne bandaged up though, will not be enough going forward.

It’s not just main facilities requiring serious attention now.

The LaNelle Robson Tennis Center, the Hillenbrand Aquatics Center and the Roy P. Drachman Track and Field Stadium are slowly falling behind.

Vicky Maes has been the women’s tennis coach at UA since 2001. It’s challenging enough to compete with the Pac-12 schools, but not having an up-to-date facility makes it even more difficult.

“I’ll compare it with every single Pac-12 school, we’re the bottom facility wise,” Maes said. …”Utah just put $5 million into an outdoor facility and they’re indoors 90 percent of the time, Cal added $8 million to their facility, and UCLA is going to take out all their courts and build a 10 million dollar facility. The numbers are astounding but it’s good for tennis. It’s great programs are revamping and continuously improving their facilities, but for us, it’s a bit of a challenge.”

Maes has been with the University since 1994 when she played here. Not a lot has changed to the facility with the exception of a few upgrades, such as changing the court color to blue and green and adding score boards and making locker room improvements.

Maes has been pleading for upgrades for 17 years, and suggests the courts on campus reserved for campus recreation, may even have better lights than the campus courts the men and women Division 1 teams play on.

Facility conditions are one of the biggest priorities to potential recruits.

The Robson Tennis Center during a men’s division one match between Arizona and Utah State. Vicky Maes, the women’s tennis coach, says the facility is at the “bottom” of the Pac-12. (Photo by: Brandon James, Arizona Sonora News)

“The kids, they go by what they see,” Maes said. “They don’t think too much about the future, they don’t think about what those relationships can do for them.”

Swimming and diving once was one of Arizona’s best athletic teams. Consistently a top 5 school, the program isn’t where they used to be.

Coach Rick DeMont has been with the UA since 1987. Though he boasts about improved locker rooms and the Kasser Family Pool, a state of the art training pool that opened in 2008, its main 50 meter by 25-yard pool, lags behind.

The pool is only 7.5 feet deep compared to most other pools that are around 10 feet deep, which DeMont says causes it to race slower than other pools.

“It was built in 1971, it’s hard to move a lot of water through it in terms of flow rates and how fast you can turn the water over,” DeMont said. “It’s a great training facility, but might not race race as fast as a 10 feet deep pool.”

There’s been a craze at universities across the country to have the newest and finest facilities, and DeMont describes it as an arms race.

“We’re a little bit behind on that pool (main pool), and we got to get nuclear here.”

The arms race never ends. In 1993, the Rita Hillenbrand Stadium opened and was the first million-dollar softball facility at the time. Twenty-four years later, the stadium is long away from having the distinction. There are now dozens of million-dollar facilities across the nation.

Erika Barnes, UA’s interim athletic director, played softball at UA from 1997 to 2001, and was a part of the ’01 national championship team. Barnes, like DeMont, agrees it’s an arm race.

Having an annual budget half of what many other major universities budgets are doesn’t make keeping up with the Jones’ easier.

“We have to find creative ways to compete, and we have found ways,” Barnes said. “Right now, we’re looking at different lines of revenue because we need to find creative ways. We have asked a lot of our donor support in the last eight to 10 years. We are looking at strategic ways to help in that realm because when you’re competing with someone with twice the size of your budget, it’s a lot to compete against.”

It’s no secret that making upgrades to these decaying facilities in the coming years can help these programs bring in more potential recruits. The Lowell-Stevens Football facility, which was completed as a part of Arizona Stadium in 2013, was vital in improving the student athlete experience and bringing in more recruits, Barnes says.

“If you talk to some of our student athletes, they said that was really something that really they saw as appealing,” Barnes said. “We have a player’s lounge, we have study rooms, there’s quiet space, and you can spread out the locker rooms.”

Brandon James is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at




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