The cost of college sports just continues to increase

I attended my first basketball game at the new Auburn Arena this past week. It is a magnificent facility that seems to puts the crowd right on the floor. There are literally no bad seats.

Completed after two years of construction and $92 million, it is another example at how far we are willing to go to provide state of the art facilities to our college athletes and fans. It is a necessary point of entry for recruiting better high-school athletes and helps tap into that seemingly-never-ending pool of money that supporters are willing to spend for a winning team.

Of course, we are all familiar with the football stadiums that have grown larger and grander in the past twenty years. Jordan-Hare Stadium rises above the center of campus like some majestic mountain, lending a scale to the other large buildings and a center of gravity for the campus.

The Auburn Arena sits just across the street from the stadium. The entrance faces a plaza that can only be reached on foot. The new massive “Village,” a student housing facility with eight residence halls, sits on the other side, making it easy for students to attend games.

Across the street behind the Arena sits the old Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

The new Arena actually holds more than a thousand people less than the old facility. The new conventional wisdom is to build smaller places that put the fans more in the game.

I actually attended the very first game in the Coliseum. “Pistol Pete” Maravich put on a show in front of a packed house before LSU lost to Auburn, 90-71. I was in the ninth grade at the time.

Auburn began playing collegiate basketball in 1905, only 14 years after the game was invented by Dr. James Naismith.   Less than 10 years, later Auburn, known then as Alabama Polytechnic Institute, was building their first gymnasium dedicated primarily to basketball. It was built at a cost of $50,000, certainly a large sum in those days.

That facility lasted for 38 years until it was replaced by the Auburn Sports Arena, more affectionately known as “The Barn.” This wooden structure only held 2,500 fans. The students sat on the first row along with teams and coaches.

The legendary Adolph Rupp, coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, would refuse to come to Auburn to play because of the small, intense nature of the home court. It may have been because he lost two-thirds of the games he played there.

The old structure was lost to a massive fire that occured during an Auburn-LSU football game in 1996. Fortunately, we had given our tickets to some friends who reported seeing flames reach high above the football stadium. The cause was a fan that left his barbeque grill too close to the building after tailgating.

The Coliseum cost just over $6 Million when it was built in the late 1960s. It had an indoor track, which was a novelty at the time. It also sat people in a gradual slope around the court. The result that fans in the upper stands felt very far removed from the game.

The new Auburn Arena took that into consideration and spared no expense in getting all the fans as close to the action as possible. For their $92 Million, Auburn got 9,400 tons of steel, 1.3 million bricks, 44 miles of pipe, 300 miles of wiring, 40,000 cubic yards of concrete and 6,596 light fixtures.

There are some 95 high-definition TVs where you can watch the game along with giant video screens that entertain the fans with all sorts of antics.

How can you possibly pay for this, I thought as I stood in line at the concession stand? After paying $9 for a drink and popcorn and $20 for a standing-room-only ticket, I had a better idea of where the money was going to come from.

As beautiful and exciting as this new basketball arena is, it pales in comparison to the cost of some other schools’ facilities.

The new arena at the University of Oregon cost just over $200 million to build. It helps when the founder of Nike is an alumnus and donates $100 million to the school for the facility.

Even that cost was topped recently when the University of Louisville began play in the new KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville. While not owned by the school and not located on campus, it is the undisputed leader when it comes to expensive homes for college basketball.

Whether the new expensive digs makes Auburn’s basketball teams any better over the years will remain to be seen. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the popcorn.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@donalsonvillenews.com.

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