Spectator venues, such as stadiums and arenas, are typically given a great deal of publicity, coverage, and recognition within the sport media. However, the facilities used for daily training and development of the athlete are just as important and need increased public attention. Strength and conditioning facilities (SCFs) are one of the training areas used by nearly every athlete and must be distinctively designed, inspiring, and most importantly functional to be effective (15). Before the 1980s, SCFs existed largely as a part of pre-emergent, almost underground movement, at only a handful of schools (4). Because the SCF was neither the competitive venue nor the primary practice area for most sports, it was sometimes overlooked from a facilities and operations perspective (4). SCFs have been expanding since the early 1980s, and Boyd Epley is universally credited for his seminal role in creating a formalized strength and conditioning program in college football (4). The establishment of systemized strength and conditioning programs has had an extraordinary effect on the game of football and has spread to other collegiate sport programs as well (2). Because the financial stakes of intercollegiate athletics continue to rise, the competition to attract high caliber student-athletes has increased (17), making good facilities and programs an important aspect of recruitment efforts. A university's prestige or position relative to other universities does influence its success in attracting the top recruits, and the facilities and training programs they offer play a significant role. In addition to the facility itself, the staffing, design/layout, and operation of the SCF have become an influential component in the collegiate sport marketplace (4). Although the SCF itself can greatly influence the actual training and programming (2), the budgetary decisions regarding the purchase, use, and maintenance of the equipment within these facilities are also important (3).
There is an extremely limited amount of research on sport facilities and physical activity–related facilities in general, and the research is even more scant related to SCFs in particular. The first operational study of facilities for physical education, recreation, and sport can be traced back to the early 1960s when Sapora and Kenney (13) assessed facilities for physical education, sport, and recreation throughout the Big 10 Conference. Their research model, using direct facility measurements, has been replicated in dissertational studies of the Big 10 Conference (14) and within the small college setting (16) but has received little attention since their initial research. Although previous facility research has focused on the activity and athletic facilities in general and has included SCF areas as a study component (9), only 2 previous studies have focused specifically on SCFs, and these studies focused on the interscholastic level. Petersen and Judge (12) found that the largest high school classification had significantly larger SCFs compared with each of the 4 smaller enrollment classifications, and it also detailed equipment types used in these facilities. Judge et al. (5) examined SCFs at the high school level including facility size, equipment, leadership/staffing, and safety in a more recent study. Their research revealed significant differences in equipment, facility size, and safety factors based on the categorical variables of school size and the presence of certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) leadership (5).
Other than some general findings of the Sapora and Kenney study (13), little is known from a research perspective about SCFs at the collegiate level. Therefore, there is a need to examine collegiate SCFs to better define their size and scope, the equipment used, and the operational and staffing patterns. This examination is important for 2 reasons: (a) errors made in their overall design, planning, and construction will put a university at a competitive disadvantage and can influence the facility effectiveness over the structures entire lifespan, which is normally 50 years or even longer (12) and (b) an analysis of SCFs, the equipment they contain, and the staffing used to operate the facility can provide insight into the development of guidelines and recommendations that can improve the operation of existing SCFs and prevent errors in the planning and building process. This study was structured with 2 primary purposes: (a) to determine the size and scope of Division I collegiate SCFs and their equipment and staffing and (b) to examine how the SCF equipment and maintenance budgets influence the facility and its operation. A secondary purpose is to examine the impact of a football program in the schools that have one to determine its influence on the SCF size, equipment, staffing, and the overall design of the SCF.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
A survey instrument was developed to collect data regarding the layout, equipment, and management SCFs in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I universities in the United States and was distributed to head strength and conditioning coaches (SCs) in charge of these facilities. The instrument was reviewed by experts in the area of SCF facilities and approved for use via the institutional review board. The survey was formatted for online completion using the InQsit software system. An e-mail explaining the study and including informed consent was sent to all NCAA Division I head SCs along with a hyperlink to the online survey. The head SCs were instructed to complete the survey themselves or to forward it to a full-time assistant SC if appropriate. To improve response rates, a reminder request for participation was e-mailed 2 weeks after the initial contact. This study was delimited to the SCF related to intercollegiate athletics, and facilities associated primarily or solely for the general student population were not included in this study.
A total of 333 NCAA Division I universities were located through the NCAA directory. A total of 285 (85%) had a valid e-mail address available for the head SC. Therefore, a total of 285 invitations to participate, including a hyperlink to the questionnaire, were distributed via e-mail to NCAA Division I collegiate SC in the United States. The university head SC was instructed to complete the survey themselves or forward it to their assistant SC if the school had one. To improve response rates, a reminder was e-mailed 2 weeks after the initial contact. A total of 110 valid and complete surveys were returned for a response rate of 38.6%. Demographic characteristics of the respondents are listed in Table 1.
An 84-item survey instrument was developed to collect data regarding collegiate SCFs. Head strength coaches were asked about the facility size, exclusivity, renovations, and space allocations. This survey was developed by the researchers and reviewed by experts in the area of facility design and management and experts in the field of strength and conditioning for face and content validity. Minor revisions were made according the feedback from the expert review process. Test-retest reliability was assessed, and the instrument was found to be consistent between administrations. This survey was formatted for online completion and administered using the InQsit system. An e-mail explaining the study was sent to all NCAA Division I SCs with a hyperlink to the online survey. The results were tabulated and entered into a spreadsheet format for data analysis. All research plans and processes were reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board of the primary researcher's university.
Descriptive statistics and Pearson correlation analyses were conducted with SPSS version 17.0 (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL, USA). Nominal and ordinal data were evaluated using χ2 analysis, and between-group (football vs. non-football) were undertaken via analysis of variance (ANOVA) in JMP version 9.0 (SAS Institute, Inc., Cary, NC, USA). Statistical significance was set a priori at alpha <0.05 for all analyses.
Facility size results indicated that the mean primary SCF size was 7,017 square feet (SEM = 749.2). To demonstrate the tremendous range in the primary SCF size, the data were broken down further into quartiles with the following results: first quartile, 0–3,000 square feet; second quartile, 3.001–4,000 square feet; and third quartile, 4,001–8,900 square feet. Because of number of institutions used more than 1 SCF within their programming, a combined strength facility mean size for all-athlete SCF areas was determined to be 8,872 square feet (SEM = 958.6). To demonstrate the tremendous range in the all-athlete SCF size, the data were also broken down further into quartiles with the following results: first quartile, 0–3,243 square feet; second quartile, 3,244–5,050 square feet; and third quartile, 5,051–11,000 square feet. The increased range between the second and third quartiles for both the primary SCF and all-athlete SCF demonstrates the general positive skew to both data sets with a greater number of very large SCF in the third quartile. Athlete's exclusive strength facilities (not available to the general student population) have become more common in the university setting with 67.3% reporting the creation of exclusive facilities in the past 20 years. An analysis of space allocations within the facilities revealed mean values of 71.3% for free-weight space, 17.9% for machine weight (both selectorized and plate loaded) space, and 9.1% for cardio training space. A further trend of exclusivity has developed with the creation of football-only facilities within 90.7% of the schools. The trend of multiple sites is also demonstrated through the finding of a mean of 2.6 SCFs for athletic use per school. In addition, major facility renovation occurred within the past 5 years for 63.3% of the surveyed schools. SCF size was poorly associated with total school enrollment (r = 0.316, p = 0.008) and moderately associated with maximum safe capacity (r = 0.667, p < 0.001). Descriptive characteristics of the SCFs are listed in Table 2.
Equipment and Maintenance Budgets
Similarly important to the amount of space available and budget for the SCF is the equipment used within the facility. Therefore, both free-weight and machine-weight equipments and amounts of equipment were assessed. Free-weight equipment was the most prevalent type present in 100% of the SCFs. Squat rack stations were most common (mean = 10.4 ± 7.4), followed by bench press stations (9.0 ± 6.9), Olympic platforms (8.2 ± 6.9), and dumbbell sets (1.9 ± 1.2). Equipment in the machine weight category was assessed in 2 different classes: selectorized and plate loaded. Selectorized weight machines were present in 91.8% of the schools averaging 6.5 ± 4.5 different machine types with a range of 1–19. Plate loaded machines were present in 73.6% of the SCFs averaging 4.4 ± 3.4 different machine types per SCF with a range of 1–14 machine types. Cardiovascular training machines were included in 82.7% of the SCFs. Most prevalent were standard exercise bikes (mean = 2.6 ± 2.9) followed by treadmills (mean = 1.9 ± 2.1) and elliptical machines (mean = 1.6 ± 2.4). The number of squat (χ2 = 269.7, p ≤ 0.001) and bench press (χ2 = 238.4, p ≤ 0.001) stations were related to the annual equipment budget of the strength and conditioning program. Similar results for the squat (χ2 = 246.3, p ≤ 0.001) and bench press (χ2 = 191.4, p ≤ 0.001) stations were revealed for the reported maintenance budget as well.
Analysis of the equipment budget for the SCFs again yielded a number of significant findings. The higher annual equipment budgets were associated with greater reported maximum safe capacities (χ2 = 366.9, p ≤ 0.001; Figure 1), larger facility square footages (χ2 = 451.4, p ≤ 0.001; Figure 2), greater numbers of graduate assistant and intern coaches (χ2 = 102.9, p ≤ 0.001; Figure 3), and greater numbers of full-time coaches (χ2 = 224.2, p ≤ 0.001; Figure 3). The maintenance budget for the SCFs yielded similar results with higher budgets associated with greater reported maximum safe capacities (χ2 = 225.1, p ≤ 0.001), larger facility square footages (χ2 = 297.6, p ≤ 0.001), greater numbers of graduate assistant and intern coaches (χ2 = 86.2, p ≤ 0.001), and greater numbers of full-time coaches (χ2 = 114.5, p ≤ 0.001).
Experience Level of Coaches and the Relationship to Personnel
Analysis of the impact of the number of years of experience of the full-time SC yielded a number of significant findings regarding the staffing and organization of the SCF. Years of full-time SC experience for the head coach was related to number of full-time SCs employed within each institution (χ2 = 12.23, p ≤ 0.001), and this experience was also significantly related to the number of graduate assistants and intern coaches (χ2 = 8.76, p = 0.003). The number of squat stations in the facility (χ2 = 13.94, p ≤ 0.001) and bench press stations (χ2 = 4.49, p = 0.034) and Olympic lifting platforms (χ2 = 9.25, p = 0.002) was also significantly related to the number of years of head coaching experience. The years of experience of the head SC was also related to the number of SCs on the floor during both peak (χ2 = 8.24, p = 0.004) and non-peak hours (χ2 = 11.68, p = 0.001). Finally, the number of years of experience of the head SC was related to an increase in the number of teams assigned per employed strength coach (χ2 = 4.50, p = 0.034).
Football and Non-football Schools
Within the sample of 110 schools, 62 (56.4%) sponsored a football program, whereas 48 (43.6%) did not include a football program. Results of the ANOVA for SCF size and equipment indicated many significant differences based on the football/non-football status of the institution (Table 3). For the total square footage in the primary SCF, football schools had a significantly larger size than the non-football schools. The number of separate SCF for athletic use was significantly greater for the football schools. Significant differences were also noted for multiple areas of SCF equipment with football schools having greater mean values for equipment types or stations including: Bench press stations, squat stations, Olympic lifting platforms, and dumbbell sets. Staffing numbers were significantly greater for 3 employee groups for the football schools for full-time SC staff, part-time SC staff, graduate assistants, and interns (Table 3).
Over the past 5 years, schools in the NCAA's top 6 sport conferences raised more than $3.9 billion for new sport facilities, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education (17), with the building of new stadiums or an upgrade of an existing stadium more often being at the top of the list of expenditures, However, the importance of enhancing SC training facilities to attract athletes is becoming a priority for many schools but there are limited data in this area to help them. Therefore, this study was conducted to provide the current status of NCAA Division I SCFs and demonstrates that larger reported annual equipment and maintenance budgets were associated with larger SCF, greater maximum safe capacity of athletes using the facility, increased numbers of full-time coaches, and increased number of graduate assistant or intern coaches. This is important because the equipment and maintenance (operating) budget is also far more likely to be the subject of intense scrutiny and cost-cutting efforts. The head SC is more likely to have greater input, influence, and control of the operating budget as opposed to the capital budget.
Facility space for SCF is important as collegiate programs continue to maximize opportunities to attract better athletes, and the current trend appears to be the development of separate facilities for major sports. The average number of dedicated SCFs was 2.6 per university, with a range of 0–10, and a mean of just over 8,872 square feet of floor space. This institutional commitment to SCFs is further evidenced by the fact that a major facility renovation occurred within the past 5 years for 63.3% of the surveyed schools. The increasing number and size of SCF will likely influence the growth of employment opportunities at the collegiate level, and new facilities require competent supervision and leadership.
Just as important as the amount of space available for the SCF is the equipment it contains. Defining programmatic objectives is the first step to successfully planning a facility to meet the needs of the sports teams (3,4). Choices on the amount of free-weight equipment, machines, and cardiovascular equipment are principally determined by the philosophy/priorities of the facility's leadership. This makes it important to have an experienced certified strength and conditioning professional involved in the management of the SCF (6,8). The results of this study indicate that the number of squat and bench press stations and Olympic lifting platforms are directly related to the number of years of head SC experience. Coaches with more experience generally work in larger facilities, and therefore, have more space for more of this type of equipment. These results correspond to the work of Judge et al. (5) who revealed that the CSCS led facilities at the high school level had significantly greater amounts of free-weight equipment (bench press stations, squat stations, power clean stations, and Olympic bars) than the facilities without CSCS leadership or staffing. More experienced SCs tend to be more aware of the changes that occur with strength training, and their longevity usually gives them more influence on the administration concerning spending on new or replacement equipment. Therefore, it is not surprising that squat racks were the most common piece of equipment in the SCF, with bench press stations and Olympic lifting platforms being the next.
Free-weight equipment was the most prevalent type present in 100% of the SCFs surveyed. This finding adds to the viewpoint espoused by Judge (4) that facilities targeted primarily toward athletic use tend to have a large amount of free weights and dumbbells and corresponds to previous research (5) showing a large percentage (99.1%) of high schools surveyed used free-weight equipment. Equipment in the machine weight category was assessed in 2 different classes: selectorized and plate loaded. Selectorized weight machines were present in 91.8% of the schools averaging 6.5 different machine types. For the selectorized weight machines category, Judge et al. (5) reported that 17 of the 18 items assessed were found in higher percentages in high schools with CSCS leadership indicating that CSCS leadership is connected to a greater array of equipment within the SCF. Plate loaded machines were present in 73.6% of the SCFs averaging 4.4 different machine types per SCF. It is interesting to note that there is typically a lower price for plate loaded machines compared with similarly functioning selectorized machines (11), but this did not seem to impact equipment choices at the collegiate level.
Cardiovascular training machines were included in 82.7% of the SCFs. Most prevalent were standard exercise bikes followed by treadmills and elliptical machines. In the area of cardio equipment, the results of Judge et al. (5) showed that the exercise bike was the most popular piece of cardio equipment within the high schools setting. This is also in agreement with the rating of cardio equipment popularity noted by Patton (7) showing males giving preference ranking of bikes, treadmills, and steppers, and females listing treadmills, steppers, and ellipticals as their preference. It should also be noted that facilities in this study designed to service multiple teams tended to include a greater mixture of free weights, machines, and cardiovascular equipment, but the cardio equipment accounted for less than 10% of the SCF space on average.
Equipment budgets have historically been difficult to develop and defend and are often cannibalized to fund emergencies and shortfalls in other budgets within an athletic department. From a budgetary perspective, SCFs were assessed in the areas of equipment replacement and equipment maintenance budgets. The number of squat and bench press stations was related to the annual equipment budget of the strength and conditioning program. Similar results for the squat and bench press stations were revealed for the reported maintenance budget as well. The equipment choices of the SCF have become conscious strategy to gain an edge against rival universities in a very competitive marketplace (4). The majority of universities (56.9%) reported that a majority of their equipment was less than 5 years old, and 36.1% reported use of external maintenance contracts for their equipment. Approximately one-third (31.2%) of the universities reported annual equipment replacement budgets indicating $5,000 to $10,000 in expenditures. Slightly less than half (42.5%) of the universities allocated an additional $1001 to $5000 to the budget for equipment maintenance. Not surprising, these collegiate budget allocations toward SCF expenses were greater than those noted at the secondary school level (5).
A practical viewpoint to effective SCF operation and staffing can only come from years of experience developing and operating SCFs. An experienced SC typically understands how facilities should be staffed because of their experience working in the profession. The years of experience of the head SC was related to the number of SCs on the floor during both peak and non-peak hours. This is an important finding because recommended certified staff-to-athlete ratios are based on the age and experience level of the athlete (3). For the collegiate athletes, it is recommended that facilities do not exceed a 1:20 staff-to-athlete ratio (1). Finally, the number of years of experience of the head SC was related to an increase in the number of teams assigned per employed SC. This could be related to having more coaches on the floor thus more teams to work with. Because of the many different sport teams using the SCFs, it is important that traffic flow be monitored and investigated in relation to the presence of experienced certified professionals. Ideally, a higher number of dedicated strength and conditioning professionals should be used in those universities with greater SCF traffic flow and use levels (1). Facility managers who value having a more experienced coaching staff are able or more willing to invest greater resources into equipment and additional staff.
The final factor that influences SCF is the size of the school. The results from this study indicate that colleges with larger enrollments are inclined to have larger SCF facilities and larger maximum capacity. The linkage between SCF size and school enrollment has also been shown to occur at the high school level (5,9). The data reported here are in line with studies that have examined the relationship between facility size and overall activity space, in which SCFs are a subcomponent, and school enrollment has been shown to be directly related to physical education activity space apportionment at the collegiate level (14,16). Petersen demonstrated in a more general facility perspective that activity space for physical education and sport is directly related to school enrollment in studies involving high schools (10,12). This relationship of school enrollment to SCF size should be further investigated at the collegiate level. In addition to overall school enrollment, the total student-athlete population should also be considered as a measure for institutional size as it may more precisely capture the scope of SCF users.
Because football programs have made a major impact on the development of the strength and conditioning programs in general, it is not surprising that the presence of a football program was associated with numerous differences in SCF aspects compared with those schools without football programs. Universities with football programs averaged nearly 4,500 square feet of additional SCF space compared with non-football schools. Along with these larger facilities, there were nearly double the number of full-time strength coaches and significantly more part-time and graduate assistant and intern coaches on staff within the football schools. Universities with football programs were found to have a greater emphasis on free-weight training with significantly greater amounts of equipment for bench press, squats, dumbbells, and Olympic lifting platforms. Despite the smaller facility size in the non-football schools, they appear to place a greater emphasis on cardiovascular training because there were larger numbers of cardio equipment of every type (treadmills, ellipticals, and all 3 bike types) than within the football schools.
The ever-escalating college athletics facility arms race with rapidly expanding SCF facilities may impact the currency of the data. In closing, it is important to note the limitations of survey data. Sample size is dependent on the response rate, the number of SCF available for study, and only represents the schools that choose to be involved. To be sure, a larger sample for this study would have served to greatly increase the statistical power for this research. We theorize that the limited response rate experiences may be because of the following factors: (a) spam control software may have sorted introductory and follow-up e-mails into a bulk mail folder, (b) SC coaches may not have been interested in the topic or may not have perceived a tangible benefit from study participation, and (c) SC coaches may not have had sufficient time to complete the survey instrument because of time constraints related to practice or recruiting duties. Although the response rate is relatively low by traditional standards, review of institution and conference affiliation data suggests that the sample is representative of Division I programs as a whole. Biases may also occur, either in the lack of response from intended participants or in the nature and accuracy of the responses that are received, and finally the questions may not relate to the facility or the responders needs. These problems might be eliminated with the utilization of direct measurements of facility size, as well as a thorough examination of the facilities and floor plans regarding equipment placement via direct site visits. This would provide a more research-based form of data, where future studies could be directed.
Based on these data, it can be suggested to athletic administrators and strength and conditioning professionals that the safety and effectiveness of SCFs are dependent on the following factors: (a) An adequate number of personnel available to monitor student-athletes, (b) an appropriate size to enhance the safety of the athletes, and (c) the type and condition of the exercise equipment available for their athletes. Before evaluating, renovating, and/or constructing a SCF, it is important that the individuals involved in making the decisions have a clear understanding of the programmatic objectives they are trying to achieve and the factors that contribute to an effective facility. Therefore, it is important for athletic administrators to consult relevant research and use the experience and knowledge of the SC staff before approving facility design. Based on this study, it is critical that the SC staff have a voice in the planning and design stages for facility development or upgrades because SC staff possess the knowledge required to establish a safe and effective facility that can also be attractive to potential student-athletes.
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