South Carolina will play in dressed-up Williams-Brice Stadium when the 2015 season begins, with a beautiful new plaza replacing the concrete and asphalt jungle that formerly surrounded the stadium.
The Gamecocks football team also will have a new indoor practice facility when drills start in August.
But athletics director Ray Tanner and his staff already are working on more big plans for the future. The department has completed a feasibility study of adding suites to the East side of Williams-Brice Stadium, and Tanner hopes to present soon an idea for a football operations building.
“We’ve had some preliminary discussions, so this is our next major project. We will move through the approval process in the near future,” USC Chief Operating Officer Kevin O’Connell said. “It’s still in the planning phase. It’s a proposal that coach Tanner hopes to bring forth in the future. It’s still under discussion.”
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Tanner said USC will continue to improve every detail of its flagship program.
“Participating doesn’t work for me,” athletic director Ray Tanner said last week. “We want to compete at a very high level. While we’ve had great success here, I believe there’s opportunity across the board in all of our sports to elevate the success that we could have.”
An operations building is the next amenity for many major schools in college football. Like with indoor practice facilities, buildings housing all football staff, weight rooms and team space are popping up.
While it is still in the planning phase, the idea is to place a football ops building beside the new indoor facility, therefore keeping football in one place and only using Williams-Brice Stadium on game days.
“It will give us an opportunity possibly in Williams-Brice for more space, more premium areas that we don’t have currently,” Tanner said. “It’s very impactful in the recruiting process.”
USC’s current spaces are well maintained but spread out. Coaches’ offices are in the Floyd Football Building on the north side of the stadium, while the locker room, weight room, team meeting rooms, player lounge and recruiting rooms are on the south side. The Gamecocks have been walking across Bluff Road to get to practice for decades, causing police to hold up traffic a few times every fall afternoon.
With an operations building beside the indoor facility, all of the coaches’ offices could be housed there, along with a locker room, team rooms and weight room. Coaches could work in the new building, then walk 100 yards or so to practice, indoor or outdoor. Players can park in the Gamecock Park lots for practice, dress in the building, practice and then head home without jogging across the street or waiting for a policeman to halt rush-hour traffic.
That would also open massive spaces in Williams-Brice for club or premium seating, with several other areas for amenities. Fans are trending toward wanting to be as comfortable as possible while watching a game, and if that comes with a shaded, padded chairback and free food, it beats standing on a rickety aluminum bleacher for four hours in the Columbia heat.
“According to the configuration you do, we looked at the possibility of three club areas and around 20 suites,” Tanner said. “If we do the suite addition on the East side, as far as seats are concerned, I think it was only a loss of 600 seats.”
If that holds, Williams-Brice’s capacity would fall below 80,000 but the stadium would look much more attractive.
“It’s a revenue-generator,” O’Connell said. “Premium seating in college football is very desirable, because that’s where the demand is. It’s not stadium expansion, it’s premium seating and the amenities that go with it.”
The Gamecocks’ greatest success on the field has coincided with their greatest growth off it. Tanner, who helped USC’s brand grow when his baseball team won two national championships, doesn’t see any reason why they should stop trying to improve.
“We’ll continually try to upgrade for all the sports to allow our student-athletes to be competitive at high levels,” Tanner said. “This is important to our student-athletes. Resources, facilities, we have a great group of coaches. We have a tremendous fan base. All those things are important.”
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