College Sports

Hyman talks about his vision of USC's long-range dreams

"I'm trying to explain why we're doing things," said South Carolina Athletics Director Eric Hyman, speaking to about 100 Gamecock Club members Thursday at Rock Hill Country Club.

Good. When one is asking loyal but frugal people to pony up $200 million for athletic improvements, there should be a good explanation.

Hyman spoke at a luncheon and re-addressed USC's master plan for facility improvement, detailing the vision he has of USC's long-range dreams. The goals are to first improve USC's Academic Enrichment Center, baseball stadium and sports medicine facilities before progressing to a new home for the athletic department and most of the Olympic sports programs, before a potential addition to Williams-Brice Stadium.

It's a process that will take many years and dollars, but as Hyman pointed out, dreaming about it is useless without the necessary funds.

And the response so far, although there's been some grumbling about how it's been approached, has been solid.

"This past year, our revenue was more than we budgeted," said Hyman, who inherited a department with a $5 million debt but has steered it into the black in slightly more than two years. "We want to take advantage of our window of opportunity."

Hyman's point was simple. With Steve Spurrier coaching the Gamecocks' football team, it's imperative the athletic department harness that energy and use it for fundraising. But with such a lofty price tag, the decision on how to do it was unpopular to some.

Gamecock Club dues were raised this year for only the second time in the past 40 years. Season ticket prices for football were also increased, which brought a few outraged howls from across the state.

Hyman heard them and embarked on the tour that brought him to Rock Hill. It's easier to show people what their money is going toward, instead of sitting on high and shielding himself from the criticism.

"I always point out the increases in Super Bowl ads," Hyman said. "In 1967, a Super Bowl ad was $25,000. In 2007, a Super Bowl ad was $2.5 million. The price of everything -- ice cream, gas, haircuts -- increases and we must reflect that also."

So yes, there were some questions about how the athletic department plans to handle longtime season-ticket holders who may have to increase their giving or give up their seats, but Hyman answered all of them. After a slide show detailing the improvements USC must take to stay in line with the other schools of the SEC, the light went on.

Comparing USC's outdated and cramped facilities with those of Alabama, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee, the slides were compelling evidence. Hyman contrasted the large, open spaces of the other schools in the conference with USC's 15-foot room for 250 athletes, and then moved to the athletic department building.

The multi-story, columned buildings of the SEC were shown side-by-side with the decrepit USC Roundhouse, an ancient structure dripping mold and being eaten alive by termites. With that kind of visual, a slight increase in prices didn't seem so bad.

"Coaches will not bring prospects to my office, because they're embarassed," said Hyman, who works in the Roundhouse and has never been quiet about his desire to tear the building down.

And the show worked.

"After the initial shock, it helps enlighten everybody," York County Gamecock Club President Chip Comer said. "When people see what's happening, it's positives for everybody."

Comer added that the Gamecock Club has altered its routine to help with the capital campaign, using its normal donation deadline and another deadline in December. If fans choose to give twice, they are rewarded with double the priority points, which go toward road-game tickets and other perks, and they can quadruple their points with a second donation greater than the original.

"I'm going to give twice," said Comer, a Gamecock Club member and season-ticket holder for 38 years. "I think it's important for fans to see that everyone will be rewarded."

Hyman consolidated his vision concisely. Yes, it will cost a lot for the dream to come true, but it's necessary.

"I don't want to Band-Aid things," Hyman said. "I want to make things right."

NOTE: Hyman also spoke about the ongoing construction for USC's new baseball stadium, which hit yet another snag this week. The excavation of the site uncovered a sizable amount of granite, which will delay clearing the area.

Hyman was still hopeful the stadium could open as planned in February, but removing the granite could take a while. Construction bids were set to be auctioned next month, which would have already put the project in hurry-up mode. The granite could cause a delay in issuing the construction bids, as well as possibly adding more money to the estimated $28 million price tag.

Hyman also said Sarge Frye, the namesake of USC's current baseball field, would be honored at the new stadium but it would not be named after him. The naming rights are under discussion.

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