Upgraded, modern, NFL-style facilities are the norm in major college football these days. And the Illinois Fighting Illini are the latest program to get in on the act. The school opened the new Henry Dale and Betty Smith Football Center last week and it couldn't have come at a better time. The Illini have been rebuilding under current head coach Lovie Smith and the process at times has been painstaking.
The team's new digs, which feature all of the bells and whistles of today's standards, is located right next to Memorial Stadium. Their previous facility was located within the stadium itself. But the Smith Center will help this program with its rebuilding efforts. Here are four ways in which that will happen.
1. It boosts the morale of the program
There's nothing like opening the doors of a sparkling new football haven to start the season. The Illini open their campaign at home on Saturday against Akron so the team will get to use the new locker rooms, weight room, and sports medicine center, and other amenities right away. A new team home always provides motivation as fellow Big Ten member and rival Northwestern can attest to. This puts Illinois on par with the rest of the conference and with most programs in the FBS.
2. It takes game preparation to the next level
With the upgrades in practice fields, training equipment, and software for film study, game preparation will be much more efficient for an Illini team that's dealing with talent losses from this past offseason. Illinois is also looking to overcome four straight losing seasons. This is an advantage that the Illini have needed over the last couple of years.
3. Recruiting gets a huge boost
One aspect of recruiting is selling prospects on facilities in addition to the stadium and the classroom. That's one thing that Illinois won't have to worry about now that the program is armed with this new venue. The Illini's 2019 recruiting class ranked 13th in the Big Ten, but that number should improve for 2020. The Illini have made inroads with in-state recruits and graduate transfers, but national recruiting is the bread and butter of college athletics.
4. Eventually, the Illini will be more competitive
As the recruits start rolling in, the advantages that the Smith Center provides will pay dividends for the Fighting Illini. Lovie Smith hopes that turnaround begins this season as Illinois looks for their first winning campaign since 2014. At the end of the day, the Smith Center should help secure a bright future for this football program.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of @IlliniFootball)