Does Clemson basketball need a new home?

NORTHWESTERN COMMAND – For Friday’s Post and Courier I’m writing a story about whether or not Littlejohn Coliseum, at least in its present form, is a suitable home for Clemson basketball.

You might have heard about the feasibility study Clemson has commissioned to look into the financial viability of building a new basketball home on campus.

Clemson is exploring the idea of an 8,000-seat arena, slightly smaller than Littlejohn’s 10,000 capacity. By examining some other recent stadium constructions I’d ballpark the cost of a new arena around $75 million.

TD Arena is a great facility but C of C is a basketball-first school. Would a slightly larger arena be a wise investment for Clemson?

I spoke with Clemson BOT chair David Wilkins and Clemson basketball coach Brad Brownell about the study, they are reserving comment until it is completed, which is expected to be in mid March.

What’s clear is Dan Radakovich is interested in the idea of a new arena, and he has been aggressive in facility building at previous stops at LSU and Georgia Tech, where Clemson will play at the renovated McCamish Pavilion tonight, a $45 million project led by Radakovich.

It’s true that with low interest rates it is a good time build and buy, as Clemson president James Barker noted back in November. And Clemson has a healthy debt-to-cash ratio.

It’s true that Coastal Carolina, C of C, and South Carolina have all opened new arenas in the last decade, Littlejohn Coliseum is one of the older prominent Division I arenas in the state.

It’s true that facilities are key in recruiting and the fan experience, and it’s not going to get any easier to compete in ACC basketball. Having a quality ACC basketball product is still a big deal even in our football-all-the-time culture. There’s still a lot of exposure to be had on ESPN, etc.

So the question is this: is a high eight-figure dollar arena a project smart for Clemson?

If Clemson was a basketball-first school, I’d say this is a no-brainer time to build with the low interest rates. But Clemson is a football-first school, and that’s why I wonder if this is the best possible allocation of resources.

Football is king at Clemson and at many places in the Southeast, and with the upcoming deregulation who knows how many more dollars will have to be committed to football with support staffs, facilities and other costs. Spending will increase. Clemson has limited assets.

In speaking with Radakovich, he lamented the lack of premium seating in Littlejohn but I wonder if there would be a better opportunity to generate premium seating in Memorial Stadium by renovating the luxury suite levels, which are badly outdated. What if Clemson could see 50 to 100 luxury suites? Would that even be possible?

While debt spending is different than spending from the normal budget, as I understand, it’s still spending, and there are still bills to be paid.

Moreover, I also think there’s not necessarily anything wrong with playing in an older basketball facility. It works for Duke and Kansas, and when the Tigers are winning, Littlejohn is a very tough place to play for opponents. I agree with Eric Hyman, who I spoke with, that N.C. State made a mistake in leaving Reynolds Coliseum for the PNC Arena.

Now some money must be spent on basketball at Clemson, there’s no doubting this.

With Syracuse, Lousiville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame entering the league it’s going to become more difficult to compete and Clemson must better improve its ability to recruit and develop players. That starts with facilities. And regardless of what the study findings are, Brad Brownell says he needs a new practice facility.

Attendance has been down this year, is it in part because Littlejohn lacks a the ability to produce a great fan experience?

I think it’s smart to explore and be creative, especially in a time of low interest rates.

But I also think it’s smart to remember Clemson is a football-first school and an $80 million price tag is a considerable purchase.

What would you do?

10 thoughts on “Does Clemson basketball need a new home?

  1. If they want better attendance, just sell beer….

    Seriously though, the problem for me making it to more games is that I’m about an hour and fifteen minutes away. On a weeknight, that’s killer. And Sunday 1PM games aren’t worth the lambasting I’d get for skipping church.

    I wonder if a bigger impact could be had through better fan engagement. A basketball tiger walk, maybe a fan skills area outside.

    And of course the practice area and those types of improvements are needed. Littlejohn where they play doesn’t seem to actually lack much.

    Doug Kingsmore seems to need more work than Littlejohn.

    • I think we are getting closer to seeing beer sold at more college venues. Particularly with college basketball attendance on the decline (both Radakovich and Eric Hyman, whom I spoke with, are worry about the attendance trends in college basketball)

  2. Terrible, terrible idea. Clemson could throw football money at basketball and they’d never be able to consistently compete for the recruits that Duke, UNC, Syracuse, Louisville, etc get. It’s the same with another school like Duke never having the reputation and prestige to be in the top 15 football recruiting year in and year out.

    At some point, you have to realize you are who you are (yup, I went Dennis Green on TigerTracks). Don’t spend money just to spend it because it’s cheap at the moment. I don’t think Clemson could even begin to see a return on investment for something like an $80 million basketball arena. If DRad wants $35 million for a new practice facility and improvements, then sure. But scrapping everything and starting from scratch? Bad idea for a program that’s historically middle of the road at best.

    • Yeah, this is definitely one side of the argument and perhaps the more pragmatic side.

      But I also figure Radakovich wants to place his stamp on something at Clemson, and with football already on the way up and with many new facilities in place it’s going to be more difficult for him to make a signature move there, at least in the short term.

      If he wants to leave a legacy with facilities/program building Clemson basketball might be the opportunity.

      It’s a fascinating question of how to allocate resource.s

  3. Build it. You either make a true commitment or stop. There is no reason that Clemson cannot compete with other schools if they put forth the effort. I was in Littlejohn for the overtime win over #1 Duke,13000 screaming fans cared that night. You cannot tell me that with a competitive team the fans won’t respond. Look at how much football recruiting has improved with facilities and it is no coincidence that gamecock baseball has improved with the new stadium. Brownell is a great coach but does not appear to be a great recruiter. Give him something to work with.

    • You mentioned a No. 1 ranked Duke team, but it’s Duke that also plays in an antiquated facility – a facility that might be the best homecourt in college basketball. That gives me pause in thinking a new arena is some sort of magic pill.

      I’d like to see another study done about the costs of renovating Littlejohn. Clearly the $31M renovation and the annex where not successful projects. Georgia Tech received a much better renovation at $47M under Radavkovich. It looks like a new arena. You wouldn’t know Clemson’s arena was renovated 10 years ago by walking into the facility.

      If you could give Littlejohn an extreme makeover and add premium seating for $40 million I wonder if that would be a worthwhile compromise.

  4. Ron made the best point, winning is what brings in the fan. You can win at Clemson at LittleJohn imo. BB just needs lil more time. Who wants to pay to see Milt constantly screw the pooch? BB will get more of his guys in here and be much more competitive. Granted, we’re likely never gonna compete for ACC titles every year, but a top 4-6 in the conference on a regular basis will have the place packed more consistently. I think it would be foolish to build a new arena, esp with deregulation coming. LJ isn’t the problem, it’s what has been playing on the court in LJ that is

    • Winning cures most problems, and also increases public sentiment for building new facilities.

      While I’m not sold on the idea that a new arena is necessary I do agree some dollars must at least be spent on new practice facilities for the program. Clemson is behind most other ACC programs in this area.

      • I don’t think we need a new $80 mil basketball arena. But we do need to do something. Why can’t Clemson have a premier basketball program? Is it because so may fans (above) say we can’t? Or is it something else. (Personally, I’d rather give up basketball than not try to compete for championships every year.) I’d really like a study done to pinpoint why we aren’t successful in basketball like Duke and North Carolina and what we need to do to become competitive with them year-in and year-out. Also, I’d like to know for sure why attendance is so bad, although I think I know that – it’s the distance that has to be traveled to see games, and it’s not having a really good team. But I don’t understand why the student attendance isn’t better. When I attended Clemson, we never missed a game regardless of how good the team was.

  5. The State carried a version of this article in today’s (Tuesday) paper. It referred to Kansas’ Cole Field House. Isn’t Cole at Maryland and Allen at Kansas? Was that you or their editor?

    And someone again returned to the sale of alcohol. I know that schools and ADs may be wary of getting into that business, but I think it can be introduced as a new “revenue stream.” Even at $1 per drink (and I’d expect it’d be MUCH higher) after product cost and the vendor’s share, that really adds up over a season.

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