Designing facilities for student-athletes is a blend of science and art, where the lines between form and function blur to create spaces that inspire, motivate, and support. Every aspect of these facilities is carefully crafted to enhance the performance, well-being, and success of the student-athlete.

At MSA Sport, we have a long history of partnering with colleges and universities to elevate their athletic facilities. I personally have had the opportunity to work with such institutions as the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, Ohio State University, Miami (OH) University, Ohio University, Centre College, Wilmington College, and the University of Mount St. Joseph. No matter the client or the project size, we approach each project the same way: with an open mind, and more importantly, an “open ear”. Our job is to ask questions until we get past the “wants” so that we can fully understand the “needs”. It’s important that we listen more than we speak. This collaborative process typically involves not just the student-athletes, athletic department officials, and coaches, but also the equipment and laundry staff, the athletic trainers, the nutritionists, and the “behind-the-scenes” staff that support the athletes and make the facility run smoothly and efficiently.

The design of these facilities, first and foremost, needs to be highly functional. Careful consideration is made for circulation and flow of the student-athlete, required adjacencies and efficiency of movement. We carefully study how a student-athlete moves through the facility throughout various parts of their day to best maximize their time. What does their typical day look like? Where do they go and when? How long do they spend in each area?

In preparation for their move into the Big 12, the University of Cincinnati embarked on an ambitious plan to consolidate their football facilities under one roof. Their existing inflatable practice bubble was separated from the rest of their facilities inside Shoemaker Center and Lindner Center and spread out across multiple buildings and levels. Working with MSA Sport and Gensler, a new, more efficient facility was envisioned on the site of their existing practice bubble. The University of Cincinnati’s Indoor Practice Facility & Performance Center, currently under construction, features an 84,000 square-foot all-weather home for Bearcat football practices. The indoor field allows for the football team, along with other sports, to work year-round without the threat of Ohio’s unpredictable weather. The adjacent 96,000 square-foot Performance Center features everything a student-athlete needs to get competition and practice ready in one place: a sport performance weight room (directly connected to the indoor field), athletic training room, football locker room, fueling station, a performance nutrition center for all sports, team meeting rooms, and recovery spaces.

Elevating Facilities_University of Cincinnati

These adjacencies allow for the staff to be extremely efficient with the student-athletes’ time. A 2015 NCAA study found that many Division I student-athletes commit up to 60 hours per week to school and sports. This schedule can take quite a toll on both a student-athlete’s mind and body. Therefore, restorative recovery spaces, such as hydrotherapy pools, steam and sauna rooms, cryotherapy, and even nap pods are becoming the norm in Division I athletic facilities. By providing athletes with access to these facilities, universities are not only supporting their physical recovery but also their mental and emotional well-being. At Xavier University’s Cintas Center, Wilmington College’s Center for Sport Sciences and the aforementioned University of Cincinnati’s Performance Center, in-ground cold and hot therapy pools promote faster recovery and injury prevention within a relaxing, spa-like environment. In addition to these active restorative spaces, passive restorative spaces, such as players lounges and game rooms, help to build community through socialization and team building. Each play a critical role in the health and well-being of today’s student-athlete.

To further reduce the demand on student-athletes’ schedules, many colleges and universities have embraced the idea of “sport independence”. This concept involves providing independent facilities for certain sports or groups of sports to allow for greater flexibility in scheduling and use of space. For example, scheduling workouts in sport performance spaces can be challenging with the number of student-athletes on campus. Therefore, some universities provide separate workout facilities for football while the court and Olympic sports share a facility. Centre College is wrapping up the final phase of a multi-phase project that includes a new baseball stadium, a 3,000-seat Multi-Sport Stadium (football, men’s lacrosse, and track), and a Fieldhouse and Natatorium building with an indoor track, a 50-meter pool and a new Strength and Conditioning space. The new, larger strength space allows the entire football team to workout together as a team rather than in shifts, thereby improving scheduling for all the other student-athletes.

Centre College

Recent projects, such as the University of Cincinnati’s Indoor Practice Facility & Performance Center and Centre College’s multi-phase expansion, exemplify our commitment to providing state-of-the-art facilities tailored to the specific needs of each program. These facilities not only support athletic endeavors but also prioritize the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of student-athletes through innovative recovery spaces and sport-independent facilities.

As the landscape of collegiate athletics evolves, our dedication to elevating athletic facilities remains unwavering. By embracing the intersection of design, functionality, and holistic support, we continue to shape spaces that empower student-athletes to thrive both on and off the field.

About the author - brian baker