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Gene Smith discusses potential renovations, additions to Woody Hayes Athletic Center

Spencer-Holbrookby:Spencer Holbrook04/18/24


COLUMBUS — Ohio State knows what it takes to stay at or near the top of college football — in nearly every regard.

That includes facilities, even as the facilities arms race from yesteryear continues to fade with each passing year and more focus goes on giving money to athletes.

Yes, Ohio State understands that work needs to be done to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. And while current athletic director Gene Smith spoke to the media Thursday following a retirement sit-down interview, he was asked how plans to renovate the Woody Hayes Athletic Center are progressing.

“We’re still talking about it. We’ve got a plan,” Smith said. “We hope to socialize that plan with the board in May, get their feedback. And then, you know, Dan Cloren, our chief fundraiser, and his team and Ross and I, we’ve talked about it. And we’ll talk to a few donors before I leave and see if they’d be willing to help us.”

The Woody Hayes Athletic Center opened in 1987 and received a massive facelift nearly 20 years later — which cost nearly $20 million. It has since had another renovation, which opened in 2019, another round of upgrades that cost $7.8 million. The most recent renovations included an arcade, basketball court for football players, a golf simulator, a new dining and kitchen area and other upgrades.

Of course, the battle to keep the Woody Hayes Athletic Center ‘state of the art’ will never stop, but the Buckeyes are just hoping to expand the facility this time around and make it all more practical for an ever-growing football program that now features far more staffers than it did even five years ago when the latest renovations took place.

Expansion of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center has long been talked about, but a renovation project has not been approved, nor is one underway just yet. But as Smith said, the conversations are ongoing — and progress toward expansion an renovation could come soon.

Smith maintains that Ohio State has never been in an ‘arms race,’ the Buckeyes have always just wanted a good facility for football.

“For us, we weren’t in an arms race. We were trying to just be functional,” Smith said. “And so you guys go into Woody Hayes [Athletic Center] and you see how beautiful it is. We’re putting lipstick on it right now. But when I came in ’05, we didn’t have a recruiting department. We didn’t have a creative services department. We didn’t have the services, sports science people that we have, we didn’t have all the modalities and a training room that we have. We need more square footage. That’s practical. That’s not like an arms race because Alabama’s got it. That’s just practical reality. We didn’t have quality control assistants. We’re using closets right now for eight or nine people. You guys are in the building so you see we need more square footage.

“Yes, we will stay in the facility renovation and expansion area. But for me, it was never an arm’s race.”

Whether it was ever about staying on top of college football with shiny new toys in the facility or just having a practical practice facility for the Buckeyes to reside in, Ohio State knows it’s time to upgrade, expand and renovate the current iteration of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

The plan is in place. Fundraising can begin soon. Ground-breaking on those plans? Still in the works as Gene Smith prepares to hand the keys to the athletic department over to new athletic director Ross Bjork in July.

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