Louisiana State University’s aquatics facilities have grown by one. The school has recently opened a new pool, part of an $85 million leisure project on campus, that includes the coolest lazy river in American colleges – it’s in the shape of the school’s LSU logo.
Behold: the recently-opened @LSUUREC Leisure River.
Have you taken a dip?https://t.co/DO24YIotB1 pic.twitter.com/0075rgKT8w
— LSU (@lsu) July 15, 2017
While this pool will most likely be taken advantage of by the swim team during taper, rather than training, it is significant in terms of the growing divide between schools’ athletics departments and their rec sports departments.
LSU’s Aquatics Facilities:
- Indoor 50-meter pool (LSU Natatorium – Athletics)
- Indoor 6-lane, 25 yard pool (LSU Natatorium – Athletics)
- Indoor 8-lane, 25 yard (LSU Rec Sports)
- Two end-to-end outdoor, 25-yard, 4-lane pools that can’t be turned into one long course pool (LSU Rec Sports)
- One phenomenal lazy river (LSU Rec Sports).
The lazy river and accompanying 2x4x25 yard pool are both new, and includes a massive outdoor sunning area.
The facility is part of an increasing demand from students to provide new leisure and entertainment activities on college campuses, even as universities and state governments find themselves up against massive budget shortfalls.
The conflict between athletics and rec sports is nowhere more prominent than in their pools. Many of the best college teams in the country don’t own their pools, and instead have to pay rental fees to rec sports departments to use the facilities. While LSU is fortunate to have such a wide array of pools at their disposal (including plenty of designated water owned by athletics), other schools are not as lucky. Some of the biggest and best aquatics facilities in the country are not owned by the athletics departments – including places like the University of Houston and Texas A&M, who have both hosted NCAA Championships in their pools in the last 10 years.
The cost of renting pool space was one of the significant contributors that was assigned to the cutting of the Maryland swimming & diving programs in recent years, for example.
But the conflict is real. At state universities that have booming enrollments, there is high demand on water time. That includes classes offered to the general student body (some for credit, others, like SCUBA classes, for leisure), as well as intramural sports, club sports, and fitness lap swimming.
Texas A&M, which sits in the upper tier of college natatoriums in the country, is a great example of where this conflict can become a challenge. There is a proposal to add a 4th pool, an indoor, 8-lane, 25-yard pool, to the campus. In spite of having a huge facility already, the math makes it clear why more space is needed. With ROTC activities related to the corps of cadets, club water polo teams, and the second-largest campus enrollment in the country of more than 60,000 students, the existing facilities are bursting at the seems. The A&M swimming & diving team that has become a regular producer of Olympians and US National Team members, especially on the women’s team, can at times require long-course training. Doing so takes up more than half of the 40-or-so available lanes. If the diving team is training at the same time, that eliminates another 5-6 lanes, for several hours per day. When that happens, over two-thirds of the pool space, that was paid for by the entire student body, can be allocated to less than one-tenth of one-percent of the student body. So, with the rental costs issue put aside, there is simply a very real limitation of space. College aquatics take up a lot of room as compared to the rest of the general population.
This sort of behind-the-scenes conflict, which at many universities has actually become quite heated, is important context to the ongoing debate of the continuing existence of college swimming programs. While cuts to programs, such as the University of Maryland, risk leaving beautiful on-campus facilities without an NCAA program to occupy them, these issues go far beyond the will of an athletics department to keep a program. In some cases, like Maryland, rec sports departments can replace lost athletics department revenue by renting the pools out to club teams. In other cases, like at LSU, the rec sports department has simply started investing in aquatics facilities that hold more appeal to the other 29,000 members of the student body, even if they’re less fit for competitive swimming. The willingness of the collegiate system, not just the NCAA but the broader collegiate infrastructure, to invest in competitive aquatics facilities has been one of the reasons why American swimming has been the best program in the world for the last 80 years. It would be a scary proposition for both the United States and the many nations who now have their top swimmers training in the NCAA to fully lose that support.