In a giant leap forward for Baylor athletics, the University will construct an on-campus, $34 million athletics complex and academic center. The Alwin O. and Dorothy Highers Athletics Complex and the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center, to be completed in summer 2008, will provide Baylor's student-athletes with state-of-the-art training, administrative and academic facilities, all conveniently located adjacent to the other athletic venues along University Parks Drive.
"This is a tremendously exciting project that will impact all Baylor athletes and demonstrate our commitment to their achievement and performance," says Ian McCaw, Baylor athletic director. "We'll also benefit from being able to integrate the athletics department offices and football program back into the campus environment."
The lead gift for the privately funded project and the largest gift from an individual in Baylor's history is from the estate of Alwin O. Highers Jr., a 1939 Baylor business graduate and dedicated supporter of Baylor athletics. He owned the Dr Pepper Bottling Co. in Alexandria, La., and is survived by his wife, Dorothy. The Highers Athletics Complex will feature three football practice fields -- two with a natural surface and one with artificial turf.
Included in the complex will be the 96,300-square-foot Simpson Athletics and Academic Center, where the main athletics training room, equipment room, football locker room and coaches' locker room will be located. A first-rate sports medicine and rehabilitation facility, athletics department offices and academic center for Baylor student-athletes also will be located here.
"All of us associated with the Baylor football program deeply appreciate the Board of Regents, President Lilley, Ian McCaw, the Highers' family and Bob Simpson for making this on-campus facility a reality," says Guy Morriss, head football coach.
"Moving our entire football operation to campus will be a tremendous benefit to Baylor football for many years to come and will have a positive impact in recruiting future student-athletes," Morriss says
Bob R. Simpson, co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of XTO Energy Inc., is providing the lead gift for the Simpson Athletics and Academic Center. He earned both a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance and an MBA degree from Baylor, and has been recognized by major business publications for his outstanding leadership. During his tenure, XTO Energy has become the second-largest natural gas producer in Texas and the eighth-largest in the nation. Simpson is married to Janice Simpson and is the father of seven children.
"We thank the Highers and Simpson families for making this facility a reality," says Baylor President John M. Lilley. "Their generous support advances three key imperatives of our Baylor 2012 vision statement -- establishing an environment where learning can flourish, providing outstanding academic facilities and building with integrity a winning athletic tradition in all sports."
The athletics complex and academic center are significant components of the Victory with Integrity campaign, a five-year, $90 million development program initiated in February 2005, and advance a key element of Baylor 2012's Imperative 10, which calls for more complete integration of student athletes into Baylor life.
Although still in the preliminary planning stages, the proposed site of the complex is just east of the Mayborn Museum Complex along University Parks Drive. Existing facilities, including the marina pool, Streich Tennis Courts and soccer field, may be relocated pending review as part of Baylor's strategic and master planning review process. Football games will continue to be played at Floyd Casey Stadium.
"The new, on-campus athletics and academic center will enable us to offer a broader range of student services with our academic advisers available at the same place," says Bart Byrd, Baylor Assistant Athletic Director.
Academic services for Baylor's student-
athletes have been provided at various locations around campus. The new academic center will bring together a computer lab, advising and counseling services, private areas for tutoring and meeting rooms for ongoing programs. One key program is Baylor's Life Skills training, coordinated by the academic services staff, which helps student athletes develop and pursue career and life goals. A "first-year success" class introduces them to Baylor resources and traditions, helps them identify skills and study interests and teaches time management skills that are essential to academic success. As they progress to their last year of eligibility, they attend a career fair and their résumés are compiled in a résumé book.
"The academic success of our student athletes remains a priority," McCaw says. "Our graduation rates rank at or near the top of Big 12 schools each year, but this new facility further demonstrates our commitment to their education, as well as their athletic performance."
Baylor's athletes have distinguished themselves within the Big 12, achieving the highest graduation rates in the conference five times in the last decade, and have ranked second in three additional years.
"Fully 90 percent of our student athletes who stay to complete their eligibility graduate with a degree," says Nick Joos, associate athletic director. "Nearly 750 Baylor student-athletes have graduated over the past decade, with many being named Academic All-Americans and listed on the Big 12 Conference Commissioner's Honor Roll."
In addition to academic support areas, the complex also will include state-of-the-art strength and conditioning equipment and an injury rehabilitation area for the approximately 450 Baylor students participating in 18 intercollegiate sports. A hydrotherapy area involving hot and cool pools will be available for treating injuries.
"We'll be able to provide better care for all of our athletes, both in preventing injuries and in returning them to the field safely and faster following an injury," says Mike Sims, Baylor assistant athletic director.
Victory with Integrity campaign fund-raising activities are continuing, and naming opportunities remain available.
"An additional component that could be added to the complex is covering one of the football practice fields, if additional funding is received," says Dennis Prescott, vice president for University development. "Improving practice facilities for all sports continues to be a key focus of our Victory with Integrity campaign."
Along with the impact it will have on the experience of current Baylor athletes, the new complex will help boost recruiting efforts, McCaw says.
"It's going to be a spectacular, well-equipped complex that will showcase our athletic programs and compare very favorably to facilities at other Big 12 schools. I can't wait to show it to recruits."