NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Vanderbilt Commodores have talked a lot about their commitment to competing in the Southeastern Conference the past three years.
On Tuesday, they opened their latest project proving it's more than just words.
Vanderbilt opened the new indoor building Tuesday that houses a 120-yard field for the football team along with a six-lane track for the track and cross country teams. It's part of a $31 million project renovating the recreation center with the key feature the field Commodores football coaches have wanted for years.
Athletic director David Williams said even he thought such a building would never be built on the Vanderbilt campus even five years ago. He also acknowledges that Vanderbilt was behind in a lot of areas, including facilities, when officials made that commitment to compete.
"We're not trying to match them brick for brick or size for size or building for building, but we are trying to do what we need to do to be competitive and be competing for championships," Williams said as he showed off the gleaming new building.
Vanderbilt now has something Florida doesn't. South Carolina has plans for a $14.5 million facility due to open by 2015 near the football stadium. Georgia's indoor facility is big enough for some drills but not a full team practice.
Before now, Vanderbilt had to find an open gym during bad weather.
Coach James Franklin had to take his Commodores over to Tennessee State of the Football Championship Subdivision last December to use an indoor field prepping for the Music City Bowl. He estimated the Commodores had five or six practices in August hampered by thunderstorms.
Franklin said he didn't realize how much of an issue storms in this part of the country could be because rain usually comes with lightning that forces them off the field. Coaches and players can't go back outside until 30 minutes following the last lightning strike.
"We could get stuck in the facility and not be able to leave until the thunder and lightning stops, but we can keep practicing," Franklin said.
The field features the same turf as in Vanderbilt Stadium with a roof high enough to practice punts without scraping the hangar-like ceiling. An LED video board hangs in a corner with a training room just off the track along with 35 speakers in the 180,000 square foot addition.
"It's really helpful because it gives us an opportunity to have a facility on our campus that rivals an indoor facility anywhere in the country," Franklin said. "Obviously, it's going to be great for all the other sports as well."
The building is designed to be used by other sports as well. The women won the SEC cross country title in 2011, and the six-lane, 300-meter Mondo track gives Vanderbilt the space to improve for indoor competition with a place now to work.
The rest of the recreation center renovation will be finished in January, but Williams said the building is designed to be used by students, faculty and athletic programs. Vanderbilt already is scheduled to host a high school indoor track meet Dec. 3.
Baseball coach Tim Corbin and his wife even donated to this latest building project, but Corbin said he doubts he'll ever bring his squad inside for a workout.
"If I do that, the kids are going to think I'm soft," Corbin said.