Is the Colonial Life Arena Hurting the Basketball Program?

This season isn’t going as Gamecock fans hoped.  In fact, the last few seasons haven’t gone as fans had hoped.  The team hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2004 and hasn’t won a tournament game in a much longer time than that.  There are many problems.  Today, I want to focus on the Colonial Life Arena.

The CLA was built specifically for the South Carolina Gamecocks’ basketball programs.  Well, that’s not completely accurate.  The Arena was built for, among other things, the basketball teams.  It was also built for the city of Columbia to host concerts, circuses and other entertainment events in addition to basketball.  It was hoped it could serve as a host for an NCAA tournament game.1

In fairness to the designers of the CLA, it has served masterfully as a mixed use facility, but as a home for South Carolina Gamecocks basketball, it has failed.  That’s not the leading reason for the program’s recent struggles, but it may be a factor.

Attendance for basketball games hasn’t increased dramatically since the last season in the Frank McGuire Arena.2  However the size of the arena has increased from 12,000 to 18,000.  This has given the impression that the basketball programs aren’t supported by the fans very well.  That carries the implication that the program isn’t doing well.  Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t help the current players or the recruits.

Large numbers of unused seats make the arena a ripe target for an opposing fan base to take over.  Whenever Kentucky comes to town, the CLA sells out. Unfortunately for Carolina, it’s mostly filled with blue.  This season when Ohio State came into town, the Gamecock fans, the players and coaches had to endure the Buckeye fans’ O-H-I-O chants that made the game feel like a neutral site game.

Perception can become reality.  If our arena looks like the fans don’t support the team, other fans will decide they have better things to do with their time.  If the arena feels cavernous and empty, recruits will decide to play in front of a big crowd, or at least a packed house.

Of course, there is little we can do about the arena at this point.  There’s nothing physically wrong with it, and it would be way too expensive to build a smaller, more fitting arena.  But, when you find yourself watching the Gamecocks end up on the short end of the scoreboard and you find yourself wondering how this could keep happening, look at the Colonial Life Arena and remember the role it can play in the development of a program.  Remember that too when it comes time to build another facility for any of the other programs.


1 Due to the Confederate Flag on the State House, and later State House grounds, the NAACP has boycotted the state of South Carolina.  The NCAA has honored this boycott, and no NCAA tournament events have been held at the Arena, nor are any planned.

2 The last season at the Frank McGuire Arena averaged 10,435 fans per game in 2001-02.  At the CLA the lowest season average was 9,091 in 2005-06; The highest season attendance per game was 12,941 in 2002-03.