'Dodie' new heart of USC athletics department

USC's new state-of-the-art academic enrichment center is the jewel of the athletics department - and a key recruiting tool

bgillespie@thestate.comJanuary 31, 2010 

The view from Raymond Harrison's new office is to die for - or, in this case, perhaps to forego a few salary increases for.

From his spacious third-floor office on the southwest corner of USC's new Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center, aka "The Dodie," the athletics department's director of academics and life skills can look out through a floor-to-ceiling window and see Williams-Brice Stadium on the horizon. From another window, he can see a corner of soccer's Stone Stadium, part of the Columbia skyline and - barely - the scoreboard at baseball's Carolina Stadium.

The Dodie has been up and running for about a week, with the dedication set for 2 p.m. Wednesday, but Harrison has been catching heat from USC colleagues about his "plush" accommodations almost since the facility's groundbreaking in 2008.

"I told him he probably won't get a pay raise for four or five years, because he has the nicest office," athletics director Eric Hyman joked .

For Hyman, that view is symbolic of the future of USC athletics. One can see three of the school's four most familiar athletics structures - and if The Dodie were taller than three stories, Harrison might catch a glimpse of basketball's Colonial Life Arena, too - but none of those, Hyman said, will be any more crucial than the new building.

"This is the heart of the athletics department," said Hyman, who loves to use the term "beehive" to describe the traffic among athletes he expects in the 40,000-square-foot structure. "Academics and athletics at some places are separate, but they're not mutually exclusive. It's so important that we give young people the tools to be successful academically."

Of course, if doing so positively impacts the wins-and-losses bottom line, there's nothing wrong with that, either.

Anderson, the 81-year-old Greer resident whose former family hardwood-flooring business was the genesis of her $5 million donation toward the $13.5 million cost of the structure (and the reason it bears her name), said that when Hyman approached her about donating to USC's athletics capital campaign, her first question was, "What does Steve (Spurrier) want?"

Told that Spurrier believed USC needed a new academics enrichment center to better compete in recruiting SEC-caliber players, Anderson - and Hyman - took the first steps toward this week's ceremony.

That 2 p.m. affair, to be attended by Hyman, Anderson, USC president Harris Pastides and, almost certainly, every USC coach, will be merely the final touch. "The first day it was open (this past Monday), I was there at 7 a.m. - I beat Raymond over," said Hyman, whose "baby" The Dodie has been since conception.

Eventually, nearly all of USC's 500-plus athletes will become acquainted with the building: its sleek, mahogany-and-black-granite decor, its 10-foot ceilings and wide, athlete-friendly dimensions, its computer rooms and study areas and, most impressively, its Academics Hall of Fame, a high-tech celebration of USC's academic All-SEC and All-America performers.

"We're recognizing the best in the classroom, our best and brightest," Hyman said. "We want (athletes), when you put their names and achievements up (on plaques and interactive computer screens) like, say, batting averages - that's motivation."

Harrison envisions a day when, say, women's soccer player Blakely Mattern, an academic All-American, "comes back here 10 years from now with her kids and shows them what she did here. (Football standout) Eric Norwood can point to (making) the SEC honor roll. (Baseball pitcher) Jay Brown can come and say, 'I won the Presidents Award.' "

With The Dodie open, next on USC's schedule - and located within a touchdown pass - are a parking garage and a 67,000-square-foot Coaches Support Building (to replace the aging Roundhouse). Both are planned as architectural "sister structures" to The Dodie, both scheduled to begin construction this spring - more steps in Hyman's seven-year "athletics village" plans.

For now, though, The Dodie is the most visible symbol of a new era for USC. It's only the start, but for many, a long and eagerly anticipated one.

A VISION COME TO LIFE

Hyman knows academic enrichment centers. He was part of the construction of such facilities at Miami of Ohio and, prior to coming to USC five years ago, at TCU. "We didn't build it big enough; student use was overwhelming," he said of that 7,000-square-foot building in Fort Worth. "That's why (The Dodie) is so much larger."

On each project, Hyman had ideas of what he wanted: open, airy spaces to promote use and stimulate students, sweeping lines and lots of light. "I'm a visual person. I've got to see things," he said.

In Derek Gruner of Columbia's JHS Architecture, Hyman said he found the man to turn his ideas into reality. "We first talked about the concept three years ago, and I tried to convey that, and Derek did a marvelous job of capturing that," Hyman said.

Gruner said Hyman's vision provided not only the concept but also many details. "He and (wife) Pauline had a lot to do with that. She worked on all the finishes and furniture," he said.

Coordinating all the parties was Kevin O'Connell, USC's executive associate athletics director, whose office during The Dodie's construction resembled that of a project foreman, with floor plans and other diagrams stacked along one wall.

Gruner said he faced a challenge in combining Hyman's ideas with the desire by USC to have the new building reflect the on-campus look of The Horseshoe (which dates from the 1800s) and the requirements of an academic facility into one coherent concept. JHS previously had built Williams-Brice's "The Zone" (south end zone) and Kay and Eddie Floyd Building, as well as having done interior work at Colonial Life Arena.

"This is a blend of traditional educational environment along with aspects in corporate architecture," Gruner said. "The integration of technology" - The Dodie houses 105 computers for student use as well as video monitors throughout - "was relatively enhanced.

"Much of USC's architecture is traditional, but the athletics department wanted the building to look more forward-thinking - to appeal to recruits in that 18-22 (age) bracket. So we tried to reinterpret elements from the school's heritage and combine those with a more contemporary use of timeless materials - a large amount of glass curtainwall, for instance."

Gruner, other JHS employees and USC officials traveled the SEC to harvest ideas. Gruner saw academic enrichment centers at Auburn, Georgia, Alabama; Harrison visited Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi and Georgia, among others - all to size up the competition.

"Some places built 'palaces,' but the most important thing to me was to have the building make sense," Harrison said. "For recruiting you want the 'wow' factor, but it had to be practical, too."

The result, Gruner said, is a building that "I feel confident in saying ... will outpace (other SEC schools). Of course, I'm biased, and any time an athletics department builds, say, a basketball arena, it becomes 'the best in the conference' then another comes along and ups the ante. But I don't know of any finer than (The Dodie)."

In a sense, Harrison said, what USC has done is build a structure to match its academic achievements. Over the past three years, he said, USC has had more recipients of the SEC Commissioner's Honor Roll award (251, 266 and, in 2008-09, 283) than any other conference school.

"This is the thing we want people to know: We've had success academically," Harrison said. "And we won't go from a 3.1 to a 3.5 GPA just because we have this facility. We believe our people are our best resources."

But then, as Spurrier and other coaches know, even the best people work better in a supportive environment. And, they say, many of the best prospective athletes are demanding such environments.

IF YOU BUILD IT, WILL THEY COME?

Hyman, O'Connell, Gruner and USC's coaches know many USC fans will seldom, if ever, view the outside, much less the inside, of The Dodie. They also realize some current and future athletes won't care how nice the place is.

But, they say, those athletes' parents will.

"I think (Hyman's) perspective is that this is the next battleground in recruiting," Gruner said. "If I was a parent bringing my son or daughter to USC, the emphasis here on academics would be paramount to me. Parents have got to know the school is serious about that - and the commitment is this building."

Until now, USC's "commitment" came up short in terms of facilities. Its previous academic center, located above the third base line at Sarge Frye Field, was "once on the high end" of such facilities, Harrison said. "But time has passed it by."

The old two-story building had 13,000 square feet of space and 20 computer stations, while a designated space at Thomas Cooper Library added another 6,000 square feet and 13 computers. The total - 19,000 square feet, 33 computer stations - is dwarfed by The Dodie's 40,000 square feet and 105 computer stations.

Beyond Hyman's and others' pronounced commitment to academics is the matter of luring future players. Dodie Anderson's belief that Spurrier wanted a new academic center is correct, the coach said.

"It's a building almost every major university has now," Spurrier said. "We're in the business of trying to do the best for the student-athlete, give them the best chances to succeed, so this was very much needed here.

"Yes, it's a big recruiting tool. We've renovated almost everything (in sports facilities) since I got here, and now we also have an academics center."

Spurrier said The Dodie is for "both" - athletes and their parents - "but the parents, if they see that (at) another school, they expect and want to see it here. It's like, 'hey, we want to be big-time,' and this is a part of that."

Echoing Spurrier are USC's other coaches. "It shows a commitment to the well-being of a prospect, and that's what parents care most about," men's basketball coach Darrin Horn said. "I don't know if players always have that as a first priority ... but it shows that commitment to their success beyond" their basketball days.

Added baseball coach Ray Tanner, whose retention at USC was in part the reason for baseball's new home: "Of all the facilities we've built, this is one that may be the most important we've done in a long time. The Dodie will help us run to the top (of the SEC). No one will have a better (facility), and that will make a big difference, the way (Carolina Stadium) made a difference in baseball."

Women's basketball coach Dawn Staley suggests another benefit. "Our athletes need a place to call their own, where they can stretch out and be student-athletes," she said. "Not just for academics, but the camaraderie, supporting each other.

"With The Dodie, you're leveling the playing field."

FOR THE FUTURE

And not just in recruiting, Hyman said. Or even for an athlete's four or five years at USC.

Inside The Dodie's atrium, among all the other bright-and-shiny accouterments, is inscribed a passage that Hyman first saw while visiting the museum at the U.S. Air Force Academy. It reads: "Man's flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge."

"I absolutely loved that," he said. "There's so much truth to that. ... I told some recruits the other day, 'You'll have everything you need here to be successful academically at the highest level, but we can lead you to the water, we can't make you drink.'

"Here (in The Dodie) they'll have nutritionists, psychologists, tutors, learning specialists - but they've got to take advantage. We want athletes who will take pride in what that building means."

What it means, Hyman said, is in the inscription. "Every day, (athletes) are able to read it," he said. "When they walk out, they can see it. They just have to turn around and look up."

That, he said, might be the most spectacular view of all.

Reach senior writer Bob Gillespie at (803) 771-8304.

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