Coastal Carolina’s football stadium expansion project is not on the agenda this time as the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education prepares to meet again Thursday, and university president David DeCenzo said there’s simply no reason to go back to Columbia until the school has something significantly different to show the CHE.
To that end, though, he added that Coastal Carolina and the Chanticleer Athletic Foundation have made “significant progress” over the last month in raising funds for the Brooks Stadium project.
“We’re still looking at all the options that are available to us, but the reality was, what’s the old Einstein quote, doing the same thing over and over again, you’re going to expect the same result,” DeCenzo told The Sun News on Monday. “We’re working diligently [toward] raising some private funds. We’re having some good success with that, but until we have something that is clearly a different way of presenting it there’s no need to go back. Like I said, I’m not going to go back with the same stuff because they’ve already made their decisions on that.”
The CHE voted 9-4 against approving the project at its May meeting, which was the fourth time since February that university officials had tried presenting the stadium plans for approval. The commission made it clear there was not enough private money for their liking in the plans to fund the proposed $29.9 million expansion (which had been reduced from a previous $38 million proposed budget).
The website CoastalFans.com, in response, had launched an online petition to Gov. Nikki Haley earlier this month on Change.org, asking her to intervene with the CHE. The petition, which was supported by the CAF and Coastal Carolina Alumni Association, has received nearly 2,700 online signatures and will be formally sent to the governor’s office later this week, said CoastalFans.com owner/administrator Randy Akers.
University leaders have also previously suggested there could be other avenues to work around their stalemate with the CHE, but they have not offered any details as to what those might be.
“At this point we’re looking at all options. We’ll see what happens,” DeCenzo reiterated Monday.
The Chants already had a pledge from the CAF for a $2 million contribution upon completion of the construction with annual contributions of $500,000 from the CAF and $200,000 from athletic department revenue over the life of the bonds that would provide the upfront funding.
Additionally, DeCenzo said the school has since received further commitments of private contributions.
“We’ve had some very significant progress. Again, I want to bring a number that is reflective of the support that we’re getting from our community, from the alumni. I don’t know what that number is yet, so the more I can take the better off we’re going to be,” he said. “We’ve had some six-figure gifts, but we haven’t had the seven-figure gift that would be great to have.”
The need to expand Brooks Stadium from 9,214 seats to around 19,000, as per the most recent plans, is tied to the Chants’ move to the Sun Belt Conference and NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The football program will debut in the Sun Belt in 2017 while becoming a fully eligible FBS member in 2018, and the NCAA requires FBS teams to maintain an average paid attendance of 15,000 per game.
I have talked to the commissioner, I’ve talked to several of the presidents. They’re empathetic to what we’re going through. One of the things you do recognize with the Sun Belt schools is they are all public institutions so they all understand the public nature of what we’re going through. But they’ve been very supportive, very encouraging.
CCU President David DeCenzo
At this point, given the delays in the approval process, university leaders have acknowledged it’s unrealistic the stadium could be finished before the start of that 2017 season, but that won’t affect the time line for the rest of the transition, DeCenzo has reiterated.
And he does not expect any sort of penalty for not having the stadium ready for that debut season in the Sun Belt.
“We’re probably looking sometime during the ’17, potentially ’18 season [for completion of the stadium],” he said. “We’ve still got to get Joint Bond [Review Committee] approval, we’ve still got to get [State Fiscal Accountability Authority approval]. So all the approvals have to be there, it would have to be bid out. I can’t imagine if we clear all the hurdles in August that we’re going to have anything on the stadium starting this football season. …
“It’s just going to make it a little bit more challenging for us to have our seats, but we’re working on that option too. There are some opportunities that present themselves where we can do some things. Again, we’ve got to hit the NCAA ticket sales [requirement] so we’re looking at a number of options there too.”
DeCenzo is scheduled to head to a meeting of the Sun Belt presidents this weekend, and he said the conference and commissioner Karl Benson have been supportive through this process.
“I have talked to the commissioner, I’ve talked to several of the presidents. They’re empathetic to what we’re going through,” he said. “One of the things you do recognize with the Sun Belt schools is they are all public institutions so they all understand the public nature of what we’re going through. But they’ve been very supportive, very encouraging.”