FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas football program has spent much of the past week getting used its sparkling new home in the Fred W. Smith Football Center.
Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long is proud of the finished product, too. He called the locker room "extraordinary" and was thrilled, like the rest of the coaching staff, to hear about the reaction from players as they toured the facility for the first time.
"We were behind, but this is really going to change the face of our program and gives our coaches something to sell to the student-athletes," Long said. "This facility is about the student athletes in the program and that are coming to the program."
But Long had another message as Arkansas prepares for the 2013-14 sports season.
It’s time for the next phase of the athletic department’s facilities master plan.
While the football program moved into its new building last week, Arkansas also announced it was beginning initial site work for the next project: the baseball and track practice facility. The indoor facility is projected to provide 52,000 square feet of space and will cost an estimated $7.75 to $9.625 million.
It’s part of a three-prong plan that also includes construction of a basketball practice facility and student-athlete success center. The Razorbacks recently rolled out a campaign it is calling "Never Yield" to raise funds for the three projects, which are estimated to cost between $45 and $57.5 million combined.
Long was asked if there’s any concern Arkansas supporters are tapped out because of the number of plans, including the $40 million football center. He remained optimistic the program will be able to secure the funds, saying construction for all three facilities will happen. The timing will be determined by fundraising success.
"People don’t follow small dreams. They follow big dreams," Long said at Paradise Valley Athletic Club last Thursday. "And we’ve got big dreams here, and three facilities at once is something that very few schools ever have attempted.
"We have big dreams and we’re going to fulfill those big dreams."
Arkansas did enjoy another record-breaking year in fund-raising according to the Razorback athletics annual report, which was distributed to donors last week.
The report claimed the athletic department raised $21 million in annual fund donations. The amount is based on preliminary unaudited numbers, but eclipses the 2012 total of $20.27 million raised.
Of course, Arkansas is counting on the success to continue with its next wave of construction on the horizon. The Razorbacks emphasized in last week’s press release they won’t dive into full construction for the baseball/track facility until funds have been secured. Those efforts are underway by the Razorback Foundation.
"So many things were going on, but we’re now getting out there with that Never Yield campaign that has been unveiled," said Sean Rochelle, who is the executive director of the Razorback Foundation. "We’re kind of hitting our stride right now. I think that will be the thing you see, especially in the next couple of months, we’ll be going full speed towards raising money for those three facilities."
That’s not all Arkansas is working on in regard to facilities, either.
The Razorbacks recently collected questionnaires from football ticket holders to gauge the feasibility of a north end zone expansion of Razorback Stadium. The proposed project — which has no timeline for now — would add club seats and luxury seats to a 72,000-seat stadium that was last renovated in 2001.
Long said an enormous amount of data is being analyzed and called it a "huge decision" for the long-term future of the program. He anticipated having more answers about the feasibility of the project in the next two months.
"If we’re not ready for it, it won’t happen soon," Long said. "But if we are, the market indicators, our fan base has told us, they’ve showed us, they’ve demonstrated that they will support it, then we should move it … The economic climate is right in terms of building. Bond prices are right in terms of building, financing. So if the data tells us the fans are ready to support us, it’s more work but the timing is right.
"We need to get after it and grow our program to make it the best it can be."
There’s no doubt it would add to a hectic period for the Arkansas athletic department as it juggles construction and fundraising for several facility projects. But Rochelle said that’s "the reality of what it is in the SEC. You’ve got to compete."
Long is confident the Razorbacks will continue to do so with support.
"Every day that goes by is a critical day that we’ve lost," Long said. "We’ve already seen the impact that the Fred W. Smith Football Center has had and it isn’t even opened yet. The same is gong to be with these other three facilities. It’s going to have an incredible impact on our program. … I don’t communicate that well enough, because if I did, I’d have the money already raised. I’ve got to deliver that message, and hopefully those that have the ability to help us will step and help us."