Athletics director Warren Koegel displayed renderings of both upgraded facilities while making his pitch to the board.
The tennis upgrade includes a complete renovation of the playing surface — all the way down to the foundation — and reducing the number of courts to 12 from 15 allowing for later renovations of expanded seating and a building for offices, locker rooms and a team lounge. The courts have gotten so bad, the team has played most of its home matches this season at alternate locations.
The softball facility already has undergone some cosmetic renovations, but under the plan will receive upgraded seating, a press box, concession stand and rest rooms connected to the sewer system.
The work is expected to take place in the summer and fall. Tennis coach Steve Bailey and softball coach Jana McGinnis both said the enhancements, when completed, would make their respective facilities “by far” the best in the Ohio Valley Conference.
“If they approve it, it’ll be wonderful,” Bailey said prior to the board’s general meeting. “I’ve been out there since it opened and we’ve resurfaced it a number of times — a Band-aid — so we’re all excited about a new facility. It’ll help recruiting, help everything.
“It’s been tough playing on the road this year, but we’re patient. Gadsden and Oxford have been great to us — we’ve made some new friends — but if they approve it, of course, we’re going to be jumping up and down.”
Koegel wouldn’t say how much he expected these “very important projects” to cost or even a highest acceptable estimate.
The Gamecocks plan to pay for it through donations, naming opportunities, gifts-in-kind and perhaps involvement from the City of Jacksonville. They already have a verbal commitment from Georgia for a major gift for the tennis project.
Future plans call for renovations of Rudy Abbott Field (baseball), Pete Mathews Coliseum (basketball, volleyball) and the track.
“We are committed to facility upgrades for all our teams and all our sports,” said trustee Jim Folsom, chairman of the board’s athletics committee. “I think we have a four- or five-year plan to do everything.
“There was some concern when we started with football we would never get to our other sports. We are … going to deliver on those.”
The enhancements are being done for a number of reasons. The Gamecocks’ facilities, among the best in the country when they played at the Division II level, are now antiquated by current standards. Koegel hopes one day to attract an NCAA regional hosting opportunity. And, of course, there’s the attraction to any would-be FBS conference invitation.
The Sun Belt Conference recently brought Georgia State into its fold. JSU football coach Jack Crowe said after Friday’s J-Day game that decision would be good for the Gamecocks’ desire to move up, but university policymakers and administrators at Monday’s board meeting weren’t so committal.
“We’ve made them aware of (JSU’s) long-term plan to move up,” university president Bill Meehan said. “We would make a good partner within that footprint for the FBS sometime in the future for the Sun Belt. At this point, we’re making our progress. You saw today how we’re getting our facilities up.
“I want to make sure that we make ourselves attractive for an invitation from a conference we want to be in. I don’t want to be begging on my knees like the ugly stepsister trying to get into the prom. I want to be sure that they come to us and say we’d love to have you because your facilities and your athletic reputation are what we want to have for the Sun Belt; that’s what we’re moving toward. I want to make sure we have the prettiest prom dress we can.”
NOTES: The JSU football team will fly to its games at Arkansas and Eastern Illinois this season. … Koegel told the athletics committee the Gamecock Club would be resurrected this year. It will meet May 15 to elect officers. … Athletics committee members Folsom and Red Etheridge have been nominated for another term on the JSU board ... JSU women’s basketball coach Annette Watts is in the process of hiring two new staffers, one said to have JSU connections.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.