For decades, Vanderbilt has been the proverbial punching bag of the Southeastern Conference for its poor athletic facilities and the clear favoritism the university has for academics over athletics.
Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and Athletic Director Candice Lee heard those criticisms, and now, the university is doing something about it with the creation of the Vandy United Fund, a $300 million fundraising campaign geared toward building and upgrading VU’s athletic facilities.
“[Student-athletes and fans] needed the university to act,” Diermeier said. “People needed to see that we mean it. It’s important that we as a university are committed to this. We’re going to make it happen.”
“Sometimes, we have felt like at Vanderbilt, we’re limping along,” Lee added. “It’s important that we think of ourselves as who we are — a charter member of the SEC in the best city in the country. We’ve got to act like it.”
The Vandy United Fund marks the university’s largest-ever investment in athletics. VU has had three minor facility upgrade projects in the last 10 years — a $30 million multi-purpose field house (2012), a $12 million Hawkins Field training facility (2017) and a $5 million basketball practice facility last year.
Vanderbilt officials already have secured $200 million of their $300 million goal with a $100 million investment from the university, $90 million in donations from multiple donors, and a $10 million donation from Ingram Industries Chairman and Nashville SC owner John Ingram.
“This is an exciting time for Vanderbilt athletics,” Ingram said in a VU release. “I’m proud to be one of the initial donors to this fund because I believe in the vision and the leadership of this program. The future is bright for our Commodores.”
Football and basketball are the primary focus of the new project. The football program will receive a new indoor practice facility adjacent to its outdoor fields, as well as a football operations center that will comprise meeting rooms, offices, a training room and expanded locker rooms. Lee said that project component will be wrapped up in the next five to six weeks.
While significant upgrades will be made to Vanderbilt Stadium, Diermeier said there are currently no plans to build a brand new football stadium.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams will also receive an operations center, complete with locker rooms, weight rooms, training rooms, office space and practice courts.
Lee stated renderings for the new buildings should be available by the summer and construction on both the football and basketball facilities will begin after the 2021 football season has ended.
Other planned overhauls include an expanded McGugin Center, which will include a new sports performance facility, while the McGugin Center will be “repurposed” for other athletics teams, opening up more space for everyone.
Lee also announced a commitment to enhancing the fan experience, which includes upgraded premium seating options, food and beverage upgrades and increased amenities.
"This is just a continuous step of us improving in areas where we know we need to get better," she said. "The infrastructure (for athletes) piece, that's what we've been spending time on. But fan experience and engagement, we have to get better in that space, too.
“I meant it when I said we thank our fans for their patience and their passion, because they have hung in there with us, and they deserve something out of this project, too. We think we can do both. But first and foremost, always, it will be about our student-athletes."
Vanderbilt will use noted architecture firm Populous to design the facilities. The company’s vast portfolio includes Bridgestone Arena, the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the Ford Center in Evansville, the Honda Center in Anaheim, the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville and the United Center in Chicago, to name a few.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_