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Purdue Football: Do Facilities Matter?

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What can we expect to get from our 65 million dollar investment? A in-depth look into how facility upgrades helped Clemson to 13-0, and how facility upgrades can help Purdue.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not going to lie, being a Clemson grad really took the sting out of the Purdue football season for me. I was raised a Boilermaker, but moved to South Carolina in elementary school, and stayed in state for college. The strange thing is, when I was attending Clemson from 1999-2002, Purdue and Clemson were at the same place on the college football landscape. From 1999-2002, Purdue went 28-21 and Clemson went 29-20. How did two teams at such similar places then end up in such different places now? It's fairly simple in my opinion, Clemson made a financial commitment to football and Purdue failed to make a financial commitment to football. Simply put, you get what you pay for.

In 2004, Clemson decided they were tired of being a middle of the road college football team. Tommy Bowden, the king of the 7 or 8 win season with one or two big upsets and one or two big let downs, had been begging for better facilities since he accepted the Clemson job in 1999, and Clemson finally came through with the West Endzone project.

Associate athletic director and former Clemson assistant football coach Bill D'Andrea had this to say about the project.

We are compelled to build this West Endzone project and give our student athletes the facilities they need and keep coaches and move forward with our athletic program." D'Andrea went on to say, "When I was recruiting in the 1980's, the players we recruited wanted to play in front of 80,000 people and no one had such a stadium as us, but we kind of put our thumbs in our suspenders and didn't move forward.

D'Andrea then produced a chart showing college football facilities expenditure, showing that ACC rivals F.S.U., U.V.A., Duke, V. Tech, U.N.C., and Wake Forest had all spent more on football facilities than Clemson over a 10 year time period than Clemson.

(Information and Interview Via Tigernet.com)

I'll spare you the details of the project, but starting in 2004, Clemson has invested 80-100 million dollars (depending on what estimate you look at) in upgrading the stadium (the real Death Valley, not that dump in the swamp) into one of the crown jewels in the college football landscape, redoing all of the administrative and coaching offices, completely gutting and redoing the locker rooms and practice facilities, and finally, this year, just for the hell of it, we built an oculus. Don't ask me what an oculus is, but we have one, and I assume it's awesome. The next step in the process is to take out all of the offices, locker rooms and weight rooms out of the West End Zone (where they were placed in phase II) and move them next to the new indoor practice facility and turn the West End Zone area into a Clemson Football museum.

It appears that Purdue has finally decided to enter the college football arms race and invest 65 million dollar in practice facility upgrades, and has future plans to revamp Ross Aide into a more Big 10 appropriate stadium. I have seen a few people argue, and one person in particular, that facility upgrades will either not improve, or only marginally improve, Purdue football. It's funny, when I was in college I made the same argument for Clemson.

I continually told anyone who would listen that, "We just need to fire Tommy Bowden and find someone to coach up the guys we have. We don't need better talent to win, we just need better coaching".

Much like many of my views from 1999-2003 regarding life and the way things work, my opinion was ill informed. I thought the "we need better facilities" argument that Tommy Bowden trotted out every off-season was just an excuse for his failings as a coach. However, as you see below, improving facilities vastly improved recruiting and subsequently, vastly improved winning. Clemson no longer loses games to inferior opponents because they have vastly superior talent, and as I've seen over the last several years, coaching is important, but if you don't have the talent, it doesn't matter. When you manage to combine good coaching and good talent, things like 13-0 seasons are possible.

Here is how Clemson made it to the College Football playoffs, and this is how facility upgrades helped them get there. I'm going to start in 2003, because that's how far the rivals database goes back. I will mention that in 2002, Clemson managed to snag two 5* players in Roscoe Crosby and Aireese Curry. Both Crosby and Curry were in state wide receiver recruits who wanted to remain in state. They had a choice between Clemson's spread offense and South Carolina and Lou Holtz's run heavy offense. This was an aberration in Clemson recruiting, and not the norm.

2003:

5* - 0

4* - 2

3* - 10

2* - 5

2004:

5* - 0

4* - 1

3* - 7

2* - 19

2005:

5* - 0

4* - 6

3* - 15

2* - 4

Note: 2005 was the first recruiting class that saw the tangible results of facility upgrades. Clemson jumped from 1 4* recruit in 2004 to 6 in 2005. More importantly, Clemson was able to fill out their 2005 class with mostly 3* recruits, unlike 2004, where they relied on 2* talent to fill out the majority of the class.

2006:

5* - 2

4* - 6

3* - 9

2* - 2

2007:

5* - 0

4* - 8

3* - 11

2* - 3

2008:

5* - 1

4* - 12

3* - 8

2* - 4

Note: 2008 corresponds with the completion of Phase II of the West End Zone Project. The 2008 recruiting class was Tommy Bowden's best at Clemson, ironically, it was also his last. After consistently failing to meet expectation with improved talent, Clemson fired Tommy Bowden halfway through the 2008 season, and replaced him top recruiter and wide receiver coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney would be named the permanent Clemson coach at the end of the 2008 season.

2009:

5* - 0

4* - 7

3* - 4

2* - 1

Note: The 2009 class fell apart after Tommy Bowden was fired (that class mostly defected to South Carolina, and was the bedrock of their resurgence) but Dabo managed to salvage 12 players, most of whom (Tajh Boyd for example) made important contributions to the Clemson program.

2010:

5* - 0

4* - 9

3* - 13

2* - 2

2011:

5* - 4

4* - 6

3* - 15

2* - 4

2012:

5* - 0

4* - 9

3* - 11

2* - 0

2013:

5* - 0

4* - 10

3* - 10

2* - 3

2014:

5* - 1

4* - 7

3* - 12

2* - 2

2015:

5*- 3

4*- 9

3* - 10

2* - 2

You can clearly see the jump in Clemson recruiting after the facilities upgrade. I think it is important to note, that during the initial phase of the West Endzone Project, the coach (Tommy Bowden) stayed the same, but the recruiting improved. Once Clemson had a world class recruiter (Dabo Swinney) to pair with world class facilities, the talent level at Clemson took the next step.

Now, I'm sure you guys are all tired of reading about Clemson on a Purdue website. I know Clemson has several inherent advantages over Purdue, even with better facilities. Being located in the southeast is a major advantage, but keep in mind that Clemson is small, rural campus within 2 hours of UGA and USCe, and within 4 hours of G. Tech, UNC, NC. St., Duke, Wake Forrest, and Tennessee (if you like to drive fast) so there is ample competition for talent. Clemson also started with Death Valley, which seated over 80k before renovations, and a loyal fan base that consistently fill the stadium regardless of the team on the field, and Purdue starts with Ross Ade and 12 loyal fans. However, I'm not predicting greatness for Purdue. Upgrading facilities will not suddenly turn Purdue into Ohio St. or Michigan in terms of recruiting, but I do think it get us out of the basement.

What I hope this 65 million dollar renovation can do for Purdue is boost recruiting on the lower end. If Purdue can turn half of their 2* players into 3* players, and maybe snag 1 or 2 4* players a class to start out with, I believe you will see tangible evidence of improvement sooner rather than later. If Purdue can pair facilities with coaching, there is no reason why Purdue can't consistently be in the upper half of the Big 10, with occasional ventures into the upper quarter. For the first time in a long time, the Purdue football program appears to be heading in the right direction. The coaching issues obviously need to be resolved, but if nothing else, this 65 million dollar investment will provide excellent bait to lure a new head coach.

Boiler Up and beat Vandy tonight.

Drew Schneider