Marshall Column: A Look At AU's Facilities

Columnist Phillip Marshall writes about what he believes is the number one defiency in Auburn's athletic facilities.

Take a walk around Auburn's athletic facilities and you'll see some of the nation's best.

You'll see one of the nation's grand football stadiums. You'll see a baseball park and facilities to go with it that is as good as any in America. You'll see an academic center that is second to none, a football weightroom that makes prospective Tigers do double takes.

You'll see a top-notch swimming facility. You'll see a softball stadium and women's athletics complex as good as any in the nation. You'll see work under way to make the track facility something special. Soon, work will begin on a new tennis facility and an outdoor swimming facility.

Walk on over to Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum and you will step back into the 1960s. Other than the coaches' offices on top of Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, Auburn's basketball facilities are nothing short of embarrassing.

I'm not even talking about the arena, though it clearly needs work. The "practice facility" is the court they call the "hot box." It would be an embarrassment to a YMCA. The locker rooms are old, outdated and plain. The weightroom looks pretty much like it did 30 years ago.

If something isn't done and isn't done quickly, the inexplicable neglect of basketball facilities is going to make Jeff Lebo's push to make Auburn a championship contender again harder at best, impossible at worst.

Already, Eugene Harris is spreading the word to recruits. Harris, of course, spent 10 years at Auburn as a coach and administrator before his job was eliminated early this year. He's an assistant at Alabama now, and he's not shy about pointing out the deficiencies in Auburn's basketball program.

Who can blame him? He's telling the truth.

Auburn president Ed Richardson told Lebo when he was interviewed that he would have a new practice facility within two years. More than a year has passed. If it's going to happen, there needs to be some serious moving in that direction.

Athletic director Jay Jacobs has a serious challenge that is not of his own making. Commitments had already been made to build a new tennis facility and an outdoor pool, great news for two sports that never have made money and never will.

Those sports, as well as track, certainly have legitimate needs. But the real question is why Auburn basketball has been so abysmally neglected for so long.

No one should question the money and effort put into making Auburn's football facilities as good as any. Without a successful football program, the entire enterprise that is Auburn athletics would be in jeopardy.

But basketball, even at Auburn, should be a strong No. 2 in the pecking order. Swimming national championships are wonderful. Golf, soccer, tennis and track have had their moments in the national spotlight, and that's a good thing, too.

Ronny LeMelle and the rest of the basketball Tigers are in need of new facilities.

There has been a commitment of sorts in basketball. Hiring Lebo and women's coach Nell Fortner was certainly a move in the right direction. Budgets for recruiting, paying assistants and the like are not a problem. But when it comes to the big-ticket items, for reasons no one has ever explained, basketball has been at the back of the Auburn line.

What is really needed is a new arena, complete with luxury boxes, a practice facility, weightroom and all the amenities that are now the norm in big-time college basketball. That would probably cost close to $100 million, which means it isn't realistic. Most schools that have built new arenas have done it with municipal help.

What is realistic is a practice facility as good as anyone's, new locker rooms and weight-training facilities. It's long past time for Auburn to show it cares about having a consistently strong basketball program, not one that surfaces as a contender every five years or so and then returns to mediocrity.

Is it going to happen? We'll know soon.


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