Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Recruiting miss raises more facility questions at Arkansas
UA athletics director Jeff Long (left) and men's basketball coach Mike Anderson believe the Razorbacks need a basketball practice facility.
FAYETTEVILLE Former Rutgers guard Jerome Seagears' decision to transfer to Auburn instead of Arkansas has brought talk of practice facilities - or the lack thereof - back to the forefront of those around the Razorbacks' programs.
Seagers visited both campuses before committing to the Tigers on Wednesday. Auburn has a basketball practice facility, unlike Arkansas.
Former Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey and current coach Mike Anderson have stressed the need for a facility to help in recruiting. Without mentioning Seagears by name, UA athletics director Jeff Long reiterated the coaches' claims Thursday on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly, stating the lack of a facility is hurting recruiting.
"I've been saying it for five years," Long said. "I have to take a step back sometimes and not get frustrated by those who still can't see the vision of why we need one. I think we lost another recent recruit for that factor. We've got to get these facilities.
"We need it now. We needed it five years ago. I hope to have them in the next year and a half."
Arkansas has one of the top facilities in college basketball - the 19,000-plus seat Bud Walton Arena - but the Razorbacks are the only Southeastern Conference school without a practice facility. In an interview with ESPN Radio affiliates in Arkansas on Friday, Long said, "Losing recruits because we don't have a basketball practice facility is a reality."
Long's claim for a facility isn't just charged by the building boom in college athletics. He has long maintained the lack of one has affected academics for the women's basketball program, which practices during the middle of the day when several classes are offered.
The UA Board of Trustees approved $36.5 million in bonds earlier this year to help finance the construction of the basketball facility, an academic center for athletes and a dual-sport indoor practice facility for baseball and track & field. Proposed costs for those three facilities are between $45 million and $58 million, according to estimates.
All were proposed as part of the UA's master plan for athletic facilities unveiled in 2011. Ground hasn't been broken on any of the three projects.
"They are the things our coaches need," Long said. "They aren't luxury items. They are necessities to win and compete in this day and age. We're behind in this area and I'm committed to catching us up."
Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn has been adamant about the need for a baseball practice facility for several years. Cold and wet weather often keeps his team from practicing during the spring. The baseball team has used the football program's indoor facility at times in the past, but overlapping schedules often make it unavailable.
UA associate athletics director Matt Trantham said in February the facility, which has an estimated price tag of $9.625 million, could be completed prior to the 2014 baseball season, but the speed of construction will be based on fundraising. An architect and contractor for the project have already been selected.
"It would be huge for us," Van Horn said. "Whenever they talk about the facility, they talk about inclement weather and all that, but we would use that facility every day.
"The work and practice we'd be able to get done in there would be second to none. Then, obviously, the ability to bring recruits in there and show them that facility would really prove to them how important baseball is here at Arkansas."
Long has said in the past the athletics department will repay bonds used toward the construction of practice facilities and the soon-to-be-completed $35 million football operations center through private donations, though it appears more donations are needed to kick-start the projects. The formation of the SEC Network, which is scheduled to be launched in 2014, will help some with the projects, Long said, though it is unknown how much money member schools will receive from the new TV contract with ESPN.
"The network is going to help us not have to raise ticket prices and donor levels," Long said. "As far as donors, the people that have capacity have the means to give money to causes they believe in. We want them to believe we are a cause worth believing in. Our cause is developing young people to their fullest potential."