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.
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?