This is the one of many (at least monthly) columns to be written by UMBC Director of Athletics Dr. Charles Brown. Dr. Brown is believed to be the longest-tenured AD in the state, with 20 years at the helm of the Retrievers. He has been an athletic director since 1981 and has served two terms as president of the Maryland Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and one term on the NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet.

College athletic programs have their own form of the “arms race.” The BIGGER is Better approach and the FLASH & GLITZ approach are used to sell programs to prospective recruits and attract fans into arenas and stadiums. One hundred thousand seat stadiums, Olympic-type aquatic and track venues, and indoor arenas that rival their NBA and NFL counterparts are all a part of the current scene. With added “big time” marketing and corporate sponsorship up front in game day presentation, it is no wonder many observers raise questions about the college athletics scene as a big business venture.

At UMBC, we’ve taken a proactive approach to upgrade and expand our facilities and I believe that our motives are within the educational mission of our University. Our goal has always been to provide safe, functional, attractive, and durable facilities for both practices and game competition.

We want our student-athletes to have a high quality athletics experience and part of that is “working” in an environment that is conducive to success. To our fans, we want them to enjoy their visit to the campus. The upgrading of our athletics facilities has gone hand in hand with the expansion of our campus. During the past decade, we’ve seen many new buildings appear on campus. The addition of five new dorms, the Commons/Student Union, the Physics building, the Public Policy building, the Information Technology building, the Engineering building, and the Research Park all make our campus look very impressive and attractive to prospective students. The Performing Arts Center, slated to begin construction in 2009, will further enhance “the landscape.”

Our department has tried to keep pace with expansion. I’ll list for you some of our major renovations and additions since we’ve moved to Division I of the NCAA, and also made a conscious effort to expand our Recreation program:

  1. Development of the RAC – doubled square footage to 130,000 sq. ft.-addition includes three new gyms, new lobby, Pro Shop, cardio center, two conference rooms and a dozen administrative offices.
  2. New Sports Medicine Center – located in the RAC-includes rehab area, exam rooms, conference room, and wet room.
  3. New Academic Study Center – Three academic counselors’ offices, computers, seating for 75, study cubicles, lounge.
  4. Three Renovated Locker Rooms – basketball and swimming-complete renovations including new media room.
  5. Upgrade of RAC Arena – new chair back seating, new scoreboards, new concession stands.
  6. 50-Meter Outdoor Pool – heated, eight lanes, able to hold 2,000 seating for large event.
  7. Six New Tennis Courts with Lights – green on green hard surface and portable seating with picnic area.
  8. Artificial Turf at Stadium – Sportexe surface, same as Ravens Stadium.
  9. Four-Hundred Meter Track Complex at Stadium – Eight lanes plus area for field events.
  10. Renovation of Stadium, Press Box and Stadium Lights – TV lights and roof-top booths for radio and TV.
  11. Lighted Baseball Field with Permanent Seating for 300 – Musco lighting, eight-pole system-Tuesday night baseball.
  12. New Soccer Pitch with Bermuda Grass Surface – Smoothest surface in area and seating for more than 1,000.
  13. New Club Sport Fields – located by Walker Avenue, two full grass fields with adjacent “Recreation House.”
  14. Development and Enhancement of Softball Field – Fencing, press box, dugouts, and new “bull pen.”

Some might say that we’ve accomplished a lot in a relatively short period of time. I agree. Some might feel that we’ve made great strides in catching up to our Division I opponents. I also agree. And some might say we’ve got a ways to go in order to be truly competitive in our “market.” Again I agree.

Facility renovation and construction are very expensive propositions. However, most university administrators realize that while trying to attract quality and quantity undergraduate applicants, that varsity athletics and recreation programs play a big role in success rates. In order to meet the future needs of our constituents, with limited resources, we need a plan. On our wish list we’ve included continued RAC Arena upgrades; lights and permanent bleachers for the Soccer Pitch; a tennis and a pool air structure for cold weather usage; more campus wide tennis courts and outdoor basketball courts; an outdoor blacktop roller rink; more and better fields for athletics, club sports, and intramural sports; and finally expansion of our Stadium. Very soon we will unveil the field design for our new locker room complex slated for construction starting this June. The facility will include eight locker rooms, a new sports medicine center, a 50-seat meeting room, a new laundry room, coaches and officials’ locker rooms, and storage areas. It’s long overdue. The completion date will be during the spring ’08 season.

While the “big boys” battle each other for the bragging rights to who has the biggest and the best of the big time, we at UMBC must take a realistic approach toward facility enhancement. A balance between the needs of varsity athletics and recreation must be maintained. Short-term and long-terms needs have to be planned out with all the financial implications investigated. We must grow at the same pace as the rest of the UMBC campus.

Of course, you realize UMBC stands for the University of Maryland’s Best Campus!