CLEMSON — Is Littlejohn Coliseum a suitable home for Clemson basketball?
SOUTH CAROLINA’S ARENA ARMS RACE
New arenas built in South Carolina since 2002:*The College of Charleston’s downtown TD Arena (capacity 5,100) was completed in November of 2008 at a cost of $47 million. *Coastal Carolina’s HTC Arena holds 3,600 and was opened in August, constructed for $35 million. *South Carolina’s Colonial Center is the largest arena in the state, seating 18,000 for basketball, opening in 2002. The arena was built for $65 million, $84 million in today’s dollars.
The question is among the first significant facilities-related issues Dan Radakovich is pondering as Clemson’s athletic director.
Some might look at Littlejohn Coliseum and see nostalgic charm. The 45-year-old building can produce considerable decibel levels, and resulting homecourt advantage, when filled near capacity. Some might look at the facility and think it is good enough at a football-first school.
But others look at the arena and see an antiquated facility, a building even after its $31 million renovation in 2003 that might be holding the basketball programs back, having fallen behind other new sparkling facilities in the region.
Clemson is conducting a feasibility study to determine whether it would be advantageous and economically viable to build a new arena. The study is expected to be completed in March. Radakovich said the study, which is receiving counsel from prominent architecture firms, is centered on the concept of an arena with a slightly smaller capacity than Littlejohn’s 10,000 seats.
By comparing the costs of recently constructed, similarly-sized arenas, a new basketball home could cost Clemson approximately $65 to $85 million, or more than the Memorial Stadium West Zone project to date.
Radakovich has a history of being aggressive with facility construction. As the Georgia Tech athletic director, Radakovich spearheaded a $45 million renovation of Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
“We want to makes sure that each one of our facilities is working in two directions: one, it’s very good for our fans to come and have a great experience, and second, for the student-athletes to have a great place to perform,” Radakovich said. “We just need to look at (Littlejohn) and make sure it’s hitting the mark in both of the areas.”
Radakovich is not certain yet whether Littlejohn is good enough. But he does seem certain on this point: it’s not a historic landmark, like Duke’s Cameron Indoor, or Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse, immune from the prospect of a wrecking ball or from becoming an auxiliary facility.
“I think if you’re looking at Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, you are talking about Kansas and Duke,” Radakovich said. “While there are many Major League Baseball and (NFL) stadiums that go up there are some that just they have so much history and tradition they get tweaked and upgraded on a smaller scale.
“I don’t think (Littlejohn) is in that category.”
Clemson trustees chair David Wilkins told The Post and Courier the board has not held any serious conversations regarding the future of Littlejohn. They are awaiting results from the study.
While Littlejohn may or may not be sufficient, it is becoming one of the older Division I arenas in South Carolina.
The College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina and South Carolina have all constructed new arenas since 2002.
Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, the former South Carolina AD, said the Colonial Center “not only served a purpose for the University of South Carolina, it served a purpose for Columbia.”
But Clemson is not in a major metro area, perhaps limiting its ability to draw other events, like concerts, and Hyman was against N.C. State’s move from Reynolds Coliseum to the pro-style, off-campus PNC Arena in 1999.
“When I was at N.C. State I was hoping we would just renovate Reynolds Coliseum,” Hyman said. “I’ve always felt that college basketball ought to be played on college campuses. And the mentality there was one more seat than North Carolina, which I think was flawed thinking. I love Cameron (Indoor) I think it really captures college basketball at its finest.”
Clemson coach Brad Brownell has pushed for a new practice facility. He declined to comment on whether he thought Littlejohn was a liability.
“There are things about it that I certainly like. I think on game nights, it’s a great facility with a good home court (advantage),” Brownell said. “But I think there are some things certainly within the arena that can be improved. I think a practice facility has to be part of the solution.”
Brownell is mostly concerned with recruiting and player development ramifications when it comes to facilities, but Radakovich is also seeking new revenues.
“Right now there really are no premium (seating) offerings within Littlejohn Coliseum so (a new arena) could be an opportunity for some revenue growth,” Radakovich said.
There is also the question of whether it is wise to commit substantial resources to a basketball program at a football-first school.
But with low interest rates Clemson president James Barker suggested in November that it might be a prudent time for Clemson to taken on debt.
Clemson had been risk adverse in regard to debt under former AD Terry Don Phillips.
“It is a good time to go into the debt market,” said Radakovich of various projects in the planning stages. “Hopefully we will be able to get these things done in a timely matter that will allow us to take advantage of that.”