The homecourt improvement plan sounds great. Charleston Southern University wants to build a new basketball arena, replacing the cozy “Buc Dome” with a facility seating 3,000 to 3,500 spectators.
It would be a multi-purpose building suitable for concerts and graduations.
Ideally, it would sit on the edge of campus right along U.S. Highway 78. Such a location would give the school, and the arena’s title sponsor, maximum exposure.
But while the basketball program continues to make large strides — the Buccaneers are tied for first place in the Big South Conference — CSU officials are no closer to replacing the smallest NCAA Division I basketball arena in the country than they were in 2012.
It’s cute to say the official capacity of 1,000 is probably closer to 800, which meant the Buc Dome crowd of 915 for a Wednesday night victory over Presbyterian was overflow.
Not so cute: CSU announced new basketball facility plans exactly three years ago this week, with construction projected to start in 2016.
The update doesn’t sound encouraging: No ETA.
“A lot of it depends on the (fundraising) phase,” CSU Athletic Director Hank Small said. “The planning part takes time but not a great deal of time. But the fundraising part takes as long as it takes.”
That 2016 plan?
“That’s what you hoped would have happened if everything fell into place,” Small said.
The only real basketball progress at CSU is on the court. The Bucs stunned Ole Miss in November. They are 18-9 overall, 12-4 in the Big South and way overdue for an arena upgrade.
Head coach Barclay Radebaugh declined comment.
CSU does have an architect on board. Greenville-based Kenneth Betsch was involved in building the College of Charleston’s TD Arena.
“The architect is getting ideas from our board and putting ideas together,” Small said. “Then we’ll present that back to the board with schematics and with renderings so we can get approval on that phase. Then it will go to the fundraising aspect.”
Perhaps you can relate to the problem of funds failing to materialize.
Raising cash is notoriously hard for universities these days.
The problem at CSU is that the Buc Dome hasn’t had a significant upgrade in more than a quarter century.
You can argue that the players don’t deserve more than a full scholarship, that the coaches are fortunate to have Division I jobs. It’s harder to explain such facility mediocrity to paying customers, harder still to attract new fans with such a mediocre layout.
A new basketball facility would help the women’s program, too.
“If at any point we feel we want to take a game to the (North Charleston) Coliseum, we will certainly do that,” Small said. “So we have an interim plan.”
Failure to keep up — or in this case, stay reasonably behind — in facility improvements is the second-quickest way (after salary) to lose good coaches.
For now, you have to give Small and his fellow CSU executives credit: They have done a fine job hiring coaches. Radebaugh, head baseball coach Stuart Lake and head football coach Jamey Chadwell were outstanding acquisitions, and all three have good assistant coaches.
That kind of leadership credibility should help in pursuit of an arena title sponsor, which is a must, Small said. He points out the benefits that come with brand placement on U.S. 78.
“We have 40,000 cars that drive by us every day,” Small said. “With that as one of our potential locations out in front of the campus, it would be an ideal position for somebody to advertise with.”
So here are some ideas:
Get board members to shake trees, twist arms, promise courtside seats for life and box seats to the football game at Alabama this November.
Arrange a meeting with potential sponsors that super salesmen Radebaugh, Lake and Chadwell also attend.
Pitch an HGTV show, “Building a Better Buc Dome.”
If that doesn’t work, how about a school-wide bake sale along U.S. 78 every Saturday for the next 30 years, which is as long as CSU fans have been waiting for a better place to watch basketball.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff