Nebraska gymnastics has a new state-of-the-art home, but it can't be used at the moment.
A virus pandemic has shut down training and practices for college athletes across the country.
The quietness of the Francis Allen Training Complex has only been interrupted a handful of times by Chuck Chmelka. Up until Friday, the Husker men's gymnastics coach had been moving around some mats, adjusting shelves. Office stuff.
"Just try to stay sane," he says.
Most of the Husker gymnasts are currently spread around the country, so Chmelka has been sending them emails, his excitement for the new facility seen in each sentence.
"I can't wait for the team to get in there and start practicing, and just see what they can do," Chmelka said. "It's going to be amazing, it really is. It's a game-changer for our team, no doubt about it."
It's also a game-changer for Husker athletics.
The Francis Allen facility, originally priced at $14 million, is one of a kind. Construction, which began in the fall of 2018, was completed this spring.
The final step was the installation of the new equipment and apparatuses. Equipment for the women's gym was installed in early February, and the women officially moved over from their Mabel Lee facility on Feb. 19. The men's equipment was installed next, but not until the COVID-19 outbreak canceled the season. The men have yet to work out in the new gym, and many of them have yet to see the final product.
The new facility houses a gym for the men and one for the women. It's also equipped with offices, locker rooms, nutrition/kitchen areas and therapy rooms. Prior to the new facility, if the women gymnasts needed to use cold tubs, they had to walk over to Memorial Stadium. Access to recovery supplements are now "kind of there at the touch of their hands," NU women's coach Heather Brink said.
It's a 46,000-square-foot building. To compare, Oklahoma, which has the top men's program and a strong women's team, has a 7,000-square-foot facility. Michigan has a 22,000-square-foot training facility for its women and a 10,000-square-foot facility for the men.
Nebraska believes it is ahead of the pack now in gymnastic facilities. Not only can that appeal to recruits, but it enhances training and efficiency for current athletes.
"In my opinion, it's just stunning," Brink said. "You walk in and everything is red, the mats are red, it just screams 'Nebraska.'
"I think it's one of of the premier gyms in the country, and I don't think our old gym was that bad, to be honest with you. But the amount of different training surfaces that we have in this new gym allows us the opportunity to efficiently run a practice, and be able to set up drills going one direction and still learning going in another direction. It's all located in this area where a coach can be able to oversee multiple things happening at one time."
The floor exercise mat in the old Husker men's practice area was not at full size, so the gymnasts could not perform their full routines. Vault space also was crammed. Now there are multiple runways and foam pits and a full floor-exercise floor.
As for the women, they'll no longer be in seclusion across campus. They'll be training next to the men, and down the hallway will be the track team, the swim team, the volleyball team, etc.
"Now it's kind of like an Olympic training center, where there's so many different like-minded people and coaches that are training at these really high levels, and I think when you surround yourself with those kinds of people, it just makes everything that much better" Brink said. "It also, in my opinion, increases the dynamic of what Nebraska stands for as far as team and family atmosphere."
Francis Allen, the longtime coach who led the Husker men to eight national championships in 40 seasons, was among those to speak at the ribbon-cutting event in early March. Allen recalls bringing a recruit on campus for a visit during the height of the NU men's program. The recruit said he wasn't coming to Nebraska, an answer that Allen was not used to hearing. The deal breaker was the lack of a high-level training area.
Now the Huskers believe they have a "yes." The facility's completion comes at a time when the Husker men are building a lot of momentum following a third-place finish at nationals in 2019.
"I'll email the guys and say, 'Fellas, keep going in school, keep trying to stay in shape, because when you come back, you're going to train in the best gym in the world, not the country anymore, but the world,'" Chmelka said. "I firmly believe that.
"The more you're in there and the more you really see everything that we've got compared to everything that we've had for the last 40 years, I was like, 'There are no excuses now, fellas.' It's going to be awesome."
Reach Clark Grell at 402-473-2639 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @LJSSportsGrell.