The facilities arms race has been discussed in this space in the past, largely in highlighting the growing emphasis schools are placing on state-of-the-art resources. It is a primary way that universities are differentiating themselves to recruits who could eventually change a school through their performances on the field of play. The extremes to which universities are willing to go are well documented, but the University of Central Florida has pushed the status quo even further. UCF’s proposed lazy river is the perfect symbol of the facilities excesses meant to entice teenagers to come to campus.
Where UCF’s latest addition really differentiates itself from those that have made news in the past is with its blatantly questionable utility. As discussed in the Washington Post, UCF officials have referred to the river as a “recovery cove” meant to confer therapeutic benefits to wearied student-athletes. The usefulness of a lazy river in recovery has been met with skepticism, as University of South Florida athletics official Brian Siegrist stated, “Is it going to be chilled? We have recovery pools, most of those are cooler, chilled water, in order to reduce inflammation in the muscles…Normally a lazy river is like 85 degrees.”
If the lazy river is not meant for physical recuperation, its function is simply to act as an enticement for recruits, something UCF officials should just admit. Only a fool is unaware of the true purpose of complexes being constructed on college campuses, regardless of the marketing spin that’s dished-out by university PR groups. UCF’s lazy river is simply the natural result of the growing trend of sacrificing function and value to make an, ahem, “splash” with recruits. It is disingenuous and frankly unnecessary in today’s college athletics climate that university officials are reticent to say this.
Perhaps UCF is concerned about the optics of building the lazy river considering the substantial portion of its athletic budget that’s supported by student fees—students who probably would not have access to the attraction in question. According to Will Hobson, UCF athletics needed $22.4 million in student fees to cover its $59.4 million in spending. It is probably accurate for administrators to be concerned that building a completely superfluous lazy river at a potential cost of $1,000 per foot might chafe an already-taxed student body.
The answer to this, however, is not to justify the construction by stating a dubious rationale for what is clearly a bauble meant to catch the eye of teenagers. UCF should instead own what it is building on campus, acknowledge this is the unfortunate place we’ve arrived in the landscape of college athletics, and hope that building winning programs will ease the sting of these frivolities, both within the student body as well as with boosters.
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.