‘A monumental day’: Memphis breaks ground on indoor football … – The Commercial Appeal

‘A monumental day’: Memphis breaks ground on indoor football … – The Commercial Appeal
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At long last, there were shovels in the ground Thursday morning at the Billy J. Murphy Athletic Complex.

After more than five years of fundraising and multiple delays, the University of Memphis held a groundbreaking ceremony for its new indoor football practice facility on the Park Avenue Campus in what coach Mike Norvell called “a monumental day for Memphis Tiger football.”

Norvell, athletic director Tom Bowen, university president David Rudd and Board of Trustees members Alan Graf and Brad Martin donned Tiger-themed hardhats and wielded striped shovels at the ceremony in front of an invite-only crowd of donors and fans. Norvell called the groundbreaking “a symbol of where we’re going,” while Bowen said it will help Memphis keep pace in the American Athletic Conference.

“It keeps us in the top tier of conference programs, because the facility will help a student-athlete come here and have an extraordinary experience,” Bowen said. “Since we have an off-campus stadium, or a satellite stadium, this is the football home of Tiger football — 365 (days a year), 24 hours a day. So we want it to be as inviting and as family-oriented and up-to-date, modern, as it can possibly be.”

As part of the project, the easternmost football practice field on the Park Avenue Campus will be converted to a 120-yard climate-controlled turf field, with retractable doors allowing it to connect with the neighboring outdoor field. The existing Murphy Complex, meanwhile, will be renovated to house offices for the coaching staff, new athletic training and dining spaces and more.

According to a press release, the official timeline for construction of the facility is 14 to 20 months. Bowen said the timeline may vary because of weather and noted that different pieces of the project will be completed at different times.

“Phases of it will come online immediately,” Bowen said. “When the offices get set up and the training table gets set up, that may come along within 10 months. So now you’re down here, and you don’t have your indoor field yet, but you have that.”

Memphis is also building a new basketball practice facility, which is expected to be available for use during the upcoming season. The two facilities are part of the university’s “Time to Shine” capital campaign, a $40-million endeavor that was publicly announced in Aug. 2015.

Though Memphis announced at the time that it would break ground on both facilities later that fall, construction of the football facility was delayed more than a year.

Under the governance of the Tennessee Board of Regents, Bowen said it was difficult to finance the construction of both facilities simultaneously. The creation of a university-specific board of trustees this spring, however, gave Memphis more flexibility, voting at its first meeting in March to allow Rudd to pursue and finalize alternate financing for the facility.

The new facility, when complete, will allow the coaching staff to spend their days at the same facility and be more easily accessible for players. It’s also a recruiting tool.

“In college football today, (facilities are) big,” Norvell said. “You have young men that are all looking to where they can go to be developed and have the opportunity to enjoy every resource that helps them as a student-athlete. I think it’s a necessary part of the process, and I’m so excited about what we’re doing here.”

For years, Memphis football coaches sought the construction of a new indoor practice facility, from Justin Fuente and Larry Porter to Tommy West. “(He) used to park a tractor out here and tell recruits, ‘We’re getting ready to start the indoor facility,'” Graf joked during the groundbreaking ceremony. Now Norvell, and those who follow him, will finally have one.

As he enters his second year as a head coach, Norvell said the potential construction of the indoor facility wasn’t the reason he came to Memphis — but it is one of the reasons that he is confident in the direction of the program.

“I believe in this community. I believe in the support that we have and what we can continue to do,” Norvell said. “This is another showcase of that, and where we’re going and what I believe we can do.”

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