BEEFING UP THE PROGRAM
Proposed dining center named in honor of R.C. Slocum becomes huge priority for A&M athletics
Story by Homer Jacobs
While sparkling examples of new bricks and mortar are everywhere at the south end of Kyle Field—with the opening of the Davis Player Development Center and early construction of the Bright Complex lobby extension (Tommie E. Lohman ’59 Center)—building champions at Texas A&M might be slowed by some golden arches.
"Right now, you see guys walk into meetings all the time with McDonald’s bags,” says associate athletic director for football Justin Moore. “That’s what they eat. It’s easy, and they like it.
“I think that’s kind of a missing link that people don’t take seriously enough. You practice really hard, and you put all this time and money into facilities and fields, and you train them really hard with this brand new weight room…but if they don’t fuel their body properly, you’re not going to get the most out of them. It’s extremely important.”
Indeed, a pressing need for a nutritional dining center, to be named in honor of Hall of Fame coach R.C. Slocum, has bubbled to the forefront in the Campaign for Aggie Football.
While the redevelopment of Kyle Field looms in the coming years, finishing out this campaign—which deals directly with enhancements for student-athletes—has become paramount as the Aggies compete in the Southeastern Conference going forward.
In fact, Texas A&M is the only SEC athletic program without a true athletic dining facility, and it’s become a recruiting liability as a result.
“Now, we have a wonderful new weight training facility, we’ve got a great strength coach and we’ve got all the resources in that area,” said Slocum, who vividly remembers the opening of Cain Hall dormitory and its fantastic dining facility in 1972. “So, it makes no sense to me that we have athletes eating at fast-food restaurants. I think it’s another step in us in having all the resources for the coaches and the athletes to be successful.”
Cain Hall was not only a place for student-athletes to eat nutritional meals, but it was also a central gathering place for the entire athletic department. Football staffers mingled with tennis coaches, and soccer players shared tables with the basketball teams.
But in 2006, the athletic department decided that subsidizing the dining facility—the dorm aspect of Cain had been shut down two years prior—was no longer feasible. The $1 million it took to feed a scarce number of student-athletes who no longer lived there and found it difficult to park in the area was an unmitigated financial drain.
“When we built our academic center at the University of South Carolina, we included a nutritional center in the building,” said Director of Athletics Eric Hyman. “Adding the cafeteria for our student-athletes was one of the most prudent decisions we made in my seven years there. Not only were we able to meet the nutritional needs of our student athletes, but the cafeteria brought the entire department together, as coaches and staff often ate there, as well.”
The R.C. Slocum Hall, which would be built on top of the seldom-used patio at the Bright Complex, is a proposed $12 million facility that would serve student-athletes and coaches from the entire athletic department. More than $3.8 million has been raised for the project by the Major Gifts Department of the 12th Man Foundation, but that means a gap of more than $8 million remains to fully fund the project.
Fifty-percent of the cost of a facility on campus must be on hand in cash before the Texas A&M System Board of Regents will approve the start of any construction. The Foundation’s goal is to begin construction on the project in January.
Donors and namesakes alike wish the dining center had been included in the original construction of the Bright Football Complex.
“I’ve always felt like we should have put the dining facility in the Bright Complex when we first built it,” said Jack Little, a major donor for the project and the former Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “I was disappointed that it wasn’t included in the plans, but of course we had a pretty tight budget. All of our athletes deserve top-rate facilities, and we need to give them every opportunity to be competitive when they take the field."
Added Slocum: “We didn’t recognize the importance of it and how far behind we had gotten in our football facilities (in the late 1990s), and we didn’t get that done.
“Let’s take care of the athletes and their needs and get that done. Our recruiting is kind of on an uptick right now, so let’s make sure we give our coaches the resources they need to put competitive teams on the field. If we do that, we’ll be able to build the stadium (in the future).”
Currently, the Aggie football players eat one catered meal a day, going through the buffet line in a Bright Complex hallway and eating their meals on card tables in the players lounge. The situation hardly projects the first-class image coach Kevin Sumlin’s program wants to project.
And that makeshift meal costs each player $8.50 (taken out of their scholarship check each month). With a new nutrition center and its streamlined service, that cost could dwindle to approximately $5.50 per meal. The NCAA allows one athlete-only meal to be provided at such a facility per day during the school year, but in the proposed Slocum Hall, student-athletes could eat multiple meals (none are free) and be monitored for their nutritional intake.
“As long as you can provide them good food, they won’t mind paying for it,” Moore said. “Now if the food is not good and you’re taking their money, they’re going to be upset.”
Slocum and Sumlin know the recruiting drill for both official and unofficial visits. Parents of the student-athletes want to know where their kids are going to sleep, study and practice. The first question is often where are they going to eat.
“I can remember what a boost it was when we opened Cain Hall from a recruiting standpoint,” Slocum recalled. “But equally important was what it did for our athletes. The whole time I never heard a complaint about our food. So you had athletes who were getting really quality meals.”
Sumlin and his staff certainly can boast of one of the premier strength and conditioning facilities in the country, and the $4 million Lohman lobby extension will be equally as dazzling.
But for the long-term health of the football program—and the entire athletic department—the building of the R.C. Slocum Hall could be as beneficial as any facility in the south end zone of Kyle Field.
“What a guy eats, his nutritional balance, nutritional diet, it plays a huge role not only in his development in his strength and conditioning but in his performance,” Sumlin said.
To contribute to the financial goals of the R.C. Slocum Hall, please contact Stu Starner of the 12th Man Foundation’s Major Gifts Department at 979-260-7934 or visit www.12thmanfounndation.com.