The Bulldogs have fallen behind, and not just on the scoreboard.
I watched Friday night’s loss to Boise State from the second row of a spacious, modern press box that peers down at the famous blue turf. The press box occupies part of the top floor of a gleaming, 131,000-square foot building called the Stueckle Sky Center.
Erected in 2008 at a cost of $135 million, the Stueckle Sky Center also includes luxury suites, club seats and banquet rooms including one on the third floor that houses the football team’s training table.
Fresno State has nothing comparable. Not by a long shot.
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On my left and stretching across the north end zone is the $22 million Bleymaier Football Complex. Opened last fall, the 70,000-square foot building is the nerve center of Boise State football. It houses coaches offices, meeting rooms, the team locker room, an academic center, computer lab and a glass-enclosed recruiting lounge that looks out onto the stadium.
But that’s not all. The Bleymaier Football Complex also contains a players lounge, multistory theater, weight room and training area complete with hydro-therapy pools.
Yes, Broncos football players have a weight room and training area separate from the other student-athletes.
No one here gets squeamish about that.
Adjacent to the Stueckle center and Bleymaier complex sits Boise State’s 78,000-square foot, $10 million Caven-Williams Sports Complex. Underneath the domed roof is a 120-yard synthetic turf field.
And when coach Bryan Harsin feels like holding practice outdoors, on natural grass, there’s a new facility for that, too. It opened in August with a $1.4 million price tag, with the athletic department paying $450,000 of that.
During my last visit to Tree City, more than a decade ago, none of these buildings existed.
Bronco Stadium (now Albertsons Stadium thanks to a $12.5 million naming-rights deal) had an old, rickety press box with windows so thin and drafty that you could feel the wind blowing through them.
Not any more. Boise State has gone big time, and not just in athletics. The rest of the campus is dotted with new buildings and facilities as well.
“The campus has just exploded along with football,” Sports Information Director Joe Nickell said as he and I stood on the top floor of the Stueckle center and admired the view through wall-sized windows.
“It’s been amazing to see.”
Amazing indeed. Or, if you’re a Bulldogs fan, rather depressing.
While Boise State has been busy bringing its athletic facilities to near Pac-12 level, Fresno State has done very little.
Instead of investing in the future, Fresno State spent the previous decade dragging its feet and mopping up past messes.
I covered my first game at Bulldog Stadium in 1999. Except for the video scoreboard, which already is showing signs of age, things are exactly the same today as they were 15 years ago.
That’s not progress. It’s stagnation.
Yes, there are mitigating circumstances. Boise State, as everyone reading this knows, sprouted into a college football powerhouse with two appearances in the Bowl Championship Series.
Just don’t fall for the baloney, espoused by Fresno State’s former athletic director, that BCS riches are the reason Boise State could afford to build such fancy digs.
That’s an excuse and a cop-out. Furthermore, it’s not true.
Sure, the BCS money helped. But we’re not talking tens of millions. After those payouts were divided among the rest of the conference (with Fresno State getting a chunk — thank you very much) and expenses deducted, the total takeaway for each Fiesta Bowl totaled about $1.5 million.
So, yes, that extra $3 million or so sure helped. It did not, however, raise all these new buildings.
No. Those things required private fund-raising and — most of all — institutional will. (It also took financing. Boise State will be paying off debts on those fancy digs for a long time.)
It would be unfair of me to say Fresno State has done absolutely nothing. The $6 million Meyers Sports Medicine Center opened last fall. There’s a newish academic center. The weight room has been upgraded. And the football team’s locker room was recently renovated.
But while the new locker room is much nicer than it was, all you have to do is glance up at the stained, decades-old ceiling tiles to realize that some corners were cut.
Nothing gets done quickly at Fresno State, and there’s no better example than the long-delayed women’s soccer and lacrosse field just east of Bulldog Stadium.
Fresno State was required to build a women’s soccer and lacrosse field as part of its messy Title IX settlement from 2004. But for years, Thomas Boeh dragged his feet and (I’m told) stubbornly refused to fund-raise for the project. Until President Joseph Castro held his feet to the fire.
It’s apparently one reason Boeh is no longer athletic director.
After Friday’s game, I pulled Bulldogs coach Tim DeRuyter aside to ask his impressions of Boise State’s building boom.
“Boise State is certainly leading the Mountain West in facilities, and facilities are a great asset in recruiting,” DeRuyter said. “They’ve doubled down on the investments they’ve made by winning, and you parlay that into more success.
“It’s kind of the price of poker if you want to play big-time Division I football. They’ve decided to make that commitment.”
DeRuyter’s last point is critical. The difference between Boise State and Fresno State isn’t BCS money or operating budgets. It’s commitment. It’s institutional will.
In that regard, things appear to be changing. Castro is a big supporter of football and will soon hire an athletic director that shares his views. So there is good news on the horizon.
But this trip has opened my eyes to how far off the pace Fresno State has fallen. There’s lots of catching up to do.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this column reported, based on incorrect figures from Boise State, that the outdoor practice facility cost was $100,000.