Josh Kendall

A game changer? Maybe. Time will tell if Gamecocks’ new building equals more wins

The theme of South Carolina’s new football operations building, proudly showed off Monday by the university, is ease of movement. The architects, with Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp by their side more often than they probably expected, spent a lot of time thinking about how to remove physical barriers from day-to-day lives of USC’s players.

It’s why the weight room, training room and locker room are all connected, and why there is a walk-through shower room linking the locker room and training room. Players can come straight from practice and rinse off all their grass and dirt before sinking into the building’s giant cold tub.

It’s why there are different entry points for the current players, who get straight to work, and prospective players, who get the red carpet treatment.

It’s why the door from the mudroom between the locker room and the practice field even has sliding doors, all the better for exiting while latching up that final shoulder pad strap.

“As important as anything to me is the flow of the building,” Muschamp said.

One of the project’s architects called it “by far” the most efficient building in college football. The planners’ belief is that the building itself will save each player 15 minutes per day, adding up to two months over the course of a collegiate career.

If the building is a literal removal of obstacles, it’s a figurative one as well.

Muschamp has been calling the building “a game changer” since before the first scoop of dirt was moved. On Monday, athletics director Ray Tanner called the Cyndi and Kenneth Long Family Football Operations Center “a transformational project.”

South Carolina was as unprepared to join the SEC in 1992 as it was eager to do so, and for the intervening 25 years it has been playing catch-up to many teams who have historically put more resources into their programs. The “little brother” stereotype that grated so badly on the Gamecocks when they heard it from the outside also served as an easy excuse when voiced from the inside.

“How can we be expected to compete against so-and-so who has such-and-such?”

USC now has just as much such-and-such as any of the so-and-sos, more than many of them in fact. In the last 10 years, the Gamecocks have built the Dodie Academic Center ($13.5 million), dramatically refurbished the game day environment around Williams-Brice Stadium, helped to complete a palatial living center for athletes and other students at 650 Lincoln, built an indoor practice facility ($14.3 million) and now topped all of that with $50 million worth of football-only amenities.

This is not the spending of an underdog. This is an infrastructure that offers no excuses.

Muschamp does not believe the building’s completion increases the expectations on his program, at least his own expectations. The Gamecocks’ expectation in Muschamp’s first three years was to “win our state and beat the East,” and it will be the same moving forward, he said.

“I think (the building) is going to help tremendously going forward,” he said.

Buildings don’t win football games, but there has been so much hype surrounding this particular structure that Gamecocks fans could be forgiven for thinking this one just might. However, in today’s SEC, where the money flows freely, the infrastructure is the easy part.

The next step, which starts with a 2019 schedule that includes Clemson, Alabama and Georgia, is the hard part.

“The bad news for Will is, we’re eliminating his excuses,” Kenneth Long, of big building donation fame, said Wednesday at a dedication ceremony.

He was mostly joking, and his audience of donors mostly laughed, but he’s also a little right.

The new football operations center gives the Gamecocks better ammunition than they have had in the past, but there’s still a heck of a fight ahead.

About the new facility

What: The Cyndi and Kenneth Long Family Football Operations Center

Where it is: At the rear of Gamecock Park and adjacent to the indoor practice facility. The new building overlooks the outdoor practice fields and has a direct view of Williams-Brice Stadium.

Cost: $50 million

Overall square footage: 110,000 square feet

Architects: Quackenbush Architects + Planners; and Gensler Sports

General contractor: Contract Construction

Branding design: Jack Porter

South Carolina 2019 football schedule

Aug. 31: North Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.)

Sept. 7: Charleston Southern (Williams-Brice Stadium)

Sept. 14: Alabama (Williams-Brice Stadium)

Sept. 21: Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)

Sept. 28: Kentucky (Williams-Brice Stadium)

Oct. 5: Open Date

Oct. 12: Georgia (Athens, Ga.)

Oct. 19: Florida (Williams-Brice Stadium)

Oct. 26: Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.)

Nov. 2: Vanderbilt (Williams-Brice Stadium)

Nov. 9: Appalachian State (Williams-Brice Stadium)

Nov. 16: Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)

Nov. 23: Open Date

Nov. 30: Clemson (Williams-Brice Stadium)

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