Malcolm Turner's facilities plan meets an uncertain future
Nearly 13 months after Vanderbilt hired Malcolm Turner to improve its lagging athletic facilities, there’s uncertainty surrounding the future of those projects.
Turner resigned almost three weeks ago. Much of his facilities plan seems to be off the table after administrative resistance and what’s left is meeting push-back from boosters.
Turner, hired by then-chancellor Nick Zeppos, was given the authority to explore all sorts of options on facilities.
What’s left of those plans? A football locker project is still on the table, and a building to go inside the football stadium is still being discussed.
“I think they’re still planning on doing it,” a source says. “I don’t think there’s ever been any discussion to not do this. They have to improve their facilities.
"Will they do it to the level they should? I don’t think so.”
So, where does this all stand?
Vanderbilt is a private school. It rarely discusses finances or plans, and a casual request for background on the status of facilities and financing was politely declined for those reasons.
Another source within the university did opine on the situation, and has doubts as to how much will come to fruition.
“It feels like everything has unraveled, and we’re back to square one,” that source said.
One sign that funding may be an issue: The first (and cheapest part) of Phase One isn’t fully funded despite months of trying.
A football locker project, with an associated cost of $6-7 million, was supposed to be the first domino. As of the middle of last week, Vanderbilt hadn’t started any work on the project.
“For years, the players have been repeatedly told about plans for a new locker room project that would begin 'soon' or 'next fall,’” the parent of a current football player said. “Now it just seems like a recurring fairy tale they tell to recruits.
“Current guys have given up on seeing it happen.”
The athletic department is still attempting to raise the money for that project. One source believes that, while the project is “close to closing,” that only $2 million has been secured.
Vanderbilt has hosted three luncheons for athletics boosters in an attempt to raise funds specifically for the locker project. The last was on January 24. Those did not go well.
“There was not a positive vibe towards athletics in the room,” a source who was there for one of those meetings said. “Nobody was interested in giving. They said, 'We need to see something for the fans.'
“Boosters see the situation for what it is. Show us something, and then we can talk.”
VU has several boosters who could easily fund the project with one check.
“I'm speculating, but, I think the big donors told them, ‘no,’” a source said.
Another long-time booster indicated he’s done with the university until it shows solid commitment to athletics, and said he's not alone.
“People are tired of throwing good money after bad money,” the source said. “Until we get confidence in the leadership, why make further investments?”
Vanderbilt has two locker rooms for football. The main one is inside McGugin Center—Vanderbilt’s athletic building—with another just off the tunnel leading into the football stadium. Excepting mostly cosmetic renovations done under coach James Franklin’s tenure—name plates, graphics in the locker room, etc.—nothing of significance has been done in 30 years.
The proposed new lockers are moveable pods that, in time, were to be transported to a new football-only building in the south end zone. That project has been scheduled for Phase One and came with a cost one source loosely estimated at $100 million.
The south end zone is the closed end of the stadium. Turner planned for that end to be demolished. Plans included a tunnel underneath Jess Neely Drive connecting that building back to McGugin across the street.
That building would have freed up space inside McGugin. Turner planned to use that to house state-of-the-art sports performance facilities. Office space is scarce there, too.
“There’s not enough office space for the football staff,” a source said. “Not the full-time coaches, but just the ancillary people. They’re just jammed in there like sardines.”
A sewer issue on that end of the stadium may have been problematic for the proposal, too.
“I don’t know how you’d re-route the main sewer,” a source added. “It runs underneath the stadium. It either ends in the parking lot, or somewhere around the Marriott.”
Turner also wanted a new indoor football practice facility stationed somewhere between the current outdoor practice field and the soccer stadium. The purpose was to make it easier for athletes to access and also provide a more regulation practice environment (The end zones at the current indoor practice facility are rounded in order to fit inside a track.)
At the height of optimism, Turner explored plans for new stadiums for football, basketball and baseball. A new football stadium would have gone in the Natchez Trace parking lot across from the football practice field.
“A new football stadium was discussed. I think it was too expensive,” a source said.
Tearing down Memorial Gym was discussed. That also met resistance, though not as much from the university as much as from the historic nature of the building.
A new building for basketball, which would go where Parmer Field House sits, was also once a possibility. It's unclear where that stands.
Upgraded, more modern facilities for tennis, soccer and lacrosse were also discussed. Football, men’s and women’s basketball and baseball are the only sports that have adequate, safe equipment storage and facilities.
“Due to theft, there was a university audit performed that told them they needed to update and secure equipment and have adequate space for Olympic sports. That audit happened around the winter of 2018,” a source says. “That still hasn’t been done to this date.
“They’ve put a band-aid on it by putting storage in their own locker rooms, then, use flimsy, Uline storage equipment that sits in the hallways that you could break into with a screwdriver.
"It’s the only school in the Southeastern Conference that doesn’t have an Olympic sports equipment room. Women’s basketball is the only women’s program that gets full service.”
It’s unclear if there’s anything on the drawing board to remedy that.
None of these sources believe Vanderbilt has significant facilities plans beyond Phase One. Folks who have been inside the situation for years are skeptical that things will change.
“They’ll never be able to compete because they’ll never be given the support they need,” the parent of a former football player said. “They make the players feel like dirt. The players feel like, ‘We’re not getting support,’ and that affects their motivation.
“It’s always something. It’s always a fight.”