Baylor University Athletic Director Mack Rhoades announced plans Tuesday to build a new $105 million basketball facility on the banks of the Brazos River, initiated by the largest gift in the university’s history.
A portion of the $100 million gift from an anonymous donor, which was announced Saturday to support the university-wide $1.1 billion Give Light campaign, will go toward the basketball facility and another portion toward academics.
Baylor officials didn’t specify Tuesday how the major donation will be divided, but Rhoades said the university still needs to raise $30 million before construction will begin on the new basketball pavilion, which will be built in the current parking lot between the Ferrell Center and Baylor Ballpark.
“Certainly to remain competitive and to continue to recruit student-athletes at the highest level as well as really have an environment for fans, it’s critical to have the best facilities,” Baylor President Linda Livingstone said. “That’s true on the athletics side, but it’s true on the academic side as well. This gift is so important because it helps us on both sides of that.”
The announcement of the new facility comes at an opportune time as Kim Mulkey’s women’s basketball team won its third national championship last month while Scott Drew’s men’s basketball team reached its fifth NCAA tournament in the last six years.
“We have programs in basketball at Baylor that have done their jobs on the floor,” Mulkey said. “And I’m so grateful and thankful that now I can actually talk to you guys and the fans and recruits about the possibility. I don’t know when, but at least it’s exciting that now we can start drawing things and having ideas and show them some pictures.”
After the new basketball facility is completed, the Ferrell Center will be renovated at a projected cost of $20 million to accommodate Baylor’s volleyball, acrobatics and tumbling teams.
“This gift is symbolic of our united effort to raise the bar across all of our sports,” Rhoades said. “While the Ferrell Center has been home to our men’s and women’s basketball programs for over 30 years, this project will now create additional opportunities beyond basketball. With volleyball and acrobatics and tumbling taking over the Ferrell Center, they too gain a remarkable competitive advantage for their respective sports.”
For now, the new basketball facility is being called the Baylor Basketball Pavilion, but that could change if the lead donors decide to remove their anonymity.
The new venue will be dramatically different from the Ferrell Center, which has served as Baylor basketball’s home court since its opening in 1988. While the Ferrell Center holds 10,400 fans, the new facility will hold 7,000 to 7,500 in an effort to create a smaller, louder environment with fans closer to the basketball floor.
“The big thing nowadays in facilities is proximity,” Drew said. “In new facilities, fans are on top of you more. You’re not so spread out. The closer, the more noise. The more noise, the more motivation, and the harder it is to communicate for the other team.”
In early January, when the Baylor women handed then-No. 1 Connecticut its first loss of the season, a crowd of 10,284 delirious Lady Bear fans…
Baylor’s philosophy in building the basketball pavilion is similar to construction of McLane Stadium. After moving from 50,000-seat Floyd Casey Stadium in 2014, McLane Stadium was downsized to 45,000 seats in an effort to create more ticket demand.
Downsizing basketball arenas has become a trend across the state and country. The University of Texas is projecting capacity of its new arena at 10,000 seats after playing in the 16,734-seat Frank Erwin Center. Texas Christian University dropped its seating capacity from 8,500 to 6,800 when it reconfigured its basketball arena.
“I don’t think there’s any question the trend is toward smaller arenas and smaller stadiums,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “As Mack (Rhoades) said, I think Baylor got it exactly right with their football stadium, and they built a lot of amenities into it. They built it the right size and I think this one’s the right size.”
The pavilion will also include an “integrated state-of-the-art practice facility” that will include separate locker rooms, practice gyms, team lounges, and office suites as well as shared athletic medicine and athletic performance spaces.
The new basketball fieldhouse is expected to give the Bears a boost in the recruiting game. Though the facility won’t likely be completed for several years, Drew plans to use it as a selling point to recruits immediately.
“Obviously when you’re doing recruiting visits, they love new,” Drew said. “It’s a game-changer. It’s huge. From the standpoint, if you look at analytics we have the second-best road record in the Big 12 in the last decade. To win the Big 12, you’ve got to win the homecourt advantage.”
Livingstone stressed that the recent $100 million donation supports an academic initiative as well as the basketball pavilion.
University officials declined to break down how much of the $100 million gift will go to the basketball facility and how much to the academic initiative. Livingstone said the academic portion will go to a matching fund for endowed chairs, in what is called the Baylor Academic Challenge.
“If they give $1.5 million, we’ll match $1.5 for a $3 million chair,” Livingstone said. “We’ll match up to $3 million which will create a $6 million chair. Currently, we have about five chairs, ... and this will allow us probably to create up to 17 more chairs at $3 million or more.”
Baylor’s ongoing Give Light campaign has received the largest one-time donation in the university’s history — a $100 million anonymous gift th…