Trevecca's move to NCAA could mean upgrades for athletic facilities

Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 10:05pm

The athletic facilities at Trevecca Nazarene University don’t require any tinkering.

As the school continues its transition from the NAIA to the NCAA, improvements and provisions must be made throughout the athletic department in order to be a full-fledged member of NCAA Division II prior to the 2014-15 academic year as planned. The current athletic facilities fall within NCAA compliance, though.

That hasn’t kept the Trojans from dreaming big — and putting thoughts on paper.

Working with Earl Swensson Associates and Mims Architecture, Trevecca administrators designed blueprints for numerous renovations, including a proposed 3,000-seat basketball arena that will cost an estimated $15 million to $20 million.

“This will be the centerpiece of the athletic department,” athletics director Mark Elliott said. “Here we are a new [and the only] Division II school in Nashville — we should be able to recruit very well. But what I think what we need to do to attract the caliber student-athletes is have some more centerpiece-type athletic facilities.

“This, to me, is a huge commitment by the school.”

The targeted spot for the arena is a parking lot that sits directly behind the only gymnasium currently on campus — a 1,500-seat facility built in 1969. The new complex would feature a wellness center, a practice basketball court, new locker rooms, a weight room, an athletic training center, a hall of fame, a possible portable stage for concerts and an elevated, three-lane indoor track on the second floor of the arena.

“We would love for us to get into this building as we go into Division II,” said Elliott, a former basketball player and former assistant coach at Vanderbilt who is entering his second year at Trevecca.

The wish list doesn’t end there.

For baseball, batting cages, locker rooms and coaches’ offices are being proposed, along with upgrades to the scoreboard, grandstand, press box and plaza around the field. Similar ideas are in the works for the softball field, including new seats, a press box and an artificial turf surface in foul territory. In addition, an outdoor pavilion in front of the soccer field would serve as a gateway to the outdoor facilities.

The school’s only two tennis courts were finished in April, and talks have started to try to obtain the space needed to add four more courts. Elliott didn’t rule out bringing tennis back as an intercollegiate sport. The program dissolved nearly 20 years ago.

The cost of the outdoor sports renovations and additions has not been determined. Likewise, it is still unclear where the money will come from.

Describing Trevecca as in “good financial shape,” Elliott plans to tap into internal, operational budget funds for some of the expenses. But an enormous chunk must come from external funds.

Elliott and administrators will gather this summer to line up possible donors and begin soliciting donations.

He hesitated to set a target date for the start — and end — of construction. That depends on how quickly the money can be raised.

“My job is try to communicate the vision and try to raise the money that would get that project started and built,” Elliott said. “There are people that would gladly share if we could show them that [what] we’re trying to accomplish meets their goals for what they want with their money. You can ask Belmont, Lipscomb, Vanderbilt, Tennessee State ... those people are out there. Now, we’re all vying for some of that same money. But our Trevecca community, there are people there, that we just need to be able to share the vision.”

Men’s basketball coach Sam Harris remembers seeing similar blueprints for a new arena not too long ago. But Harris, who starts his 20th season at Trevecca this fall, said those discussions were shelved when former president Millard Reed retired in 2005. Millard’s successor, Dan Boone, put an emphasis on upgrading technology and graduate programs. With those ideas coming to fruition, the plans for athletic renovations, along with a new fine arts center, are back on the table.

“As a basketball coach, I would say, ‘Hey, we needed new facilities 15 years ago,’ ” Harris said. “But as a part of the university team is it more important than updating our [computer] labs? If I’m really a part of the university, I can’t say updating the athletic facilities are more important than the technology that’s invested for education. But we’ve done all those things.

“Now it’s time. I think it’s our next step to move our program forward.”

The complex, if completed, would ease headaches for several coaches.

In the fall, when the volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball seasons overlap, the only gym on campus is a hot commodity. Physical education classes and student activities begin as early as 9 a.m., with three straight two-hour practices for each sport starting at 3 p.m. and ending after 9 p.m.

Harris recalls at least one instance where he lost a recruit simply because another school had a newer facility. Harris is proud that over the past two decades, more than a handful of players capable of playing at “low Division I” schools have chosen an NAIA institution, whose undergraduate enrollment last fall was 996.

Status quo won’t do, however, when competing against future Great Midwest Athletic Conference foe and Division II powerhouse Kentucky Wesleyan or bigger schools such as North Alabama and Alabama-Huntsville.  

The GMAC, which will be an active Division II conference by 2013-14, presently features schools in Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia. For Harris, this means recruiting must reach into southern Indiana, southern Illinois and even St. Louis.

“If they’re in a 3A, 4A high school their facilities are nicer than ours,” Harris said. “I think that has to play a role because when you get kids in Indiana that their gym seats 7,000, they are used to nice facilities. I don’t think our facilities are bad. I just think for us to do what we’re hoping to do in our athletic program we need to update and remodel the things we have. ... With the NCAA logo on your floor, whether it’s true or not, visibly everybody assumes the NCAA is better [than the NAIA]. With that, we have to come up with certain expectations.”

1 Comment on this post:

By: Shane Smiley on 7/4/12 at 10:37

Has a partnership with the sounds organization been considered for the baseball stadium?
Does playing in an NCAA and Minor league approved facility help increase recruiting for both entities?