FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long has no trouble seeing the need for construction of a basketball practice facility on campus.
Apparently, Long has had trouble getting supporters to agree with him.
“I’ve never had a facility that I’ve gotten more resistance about in a fanbase than I have this basketball practice facility,” Long said Wednesday during his appearance at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club meeting.
Arkansas is working to raise funds for a facility he hopes to have in place in the near future as part of the program’s three-pronged “Never Yield” campaign. The Razorbacks have started construction on an indoor baseball/track facility and also are developing plans to construct a student athlete success center.
Long said the basketball practice facility — with an estimated price tag of $20 to $25 millions — will be built as well. But the fanbase hasn’t been as receptive to its necessity. It’s a fact that has surprised Long, who said the notion he has received from many is that it’s a “frivolous spending of dollars.”
“This is unique,” Long said. “Because I talked to my colleagues around the country and none of them have had push back from folks about a basketball practice facility.
“I think our fanbase believes and loves Bud Walton Arena and they do and they should because it’s a fabulous arena that truly is and will stand the test of time.”
But Long believes adding a 70,000 to 85,000 square foot facility is a necessity. He said the reasons are clear: Arkansas is the last program in the SEC without a facility, which creates a recruiting disadvantage. The facility would help both the men’s and women’s programs with efficiency, giving them the freedom to schedule practices at any time. Long also said construction of the facility would free Bud Walton Arena for other events on campus like concerts and lectures.
“We want to provide some flexibility to do some things in Bud Walton Arena,” Long said. “That basketball practice facility allows us to do it. And allows us to become more efficient with our student-athletes’ time.”
Long acknowledged Arkansas’ men’s basketball struggles play a part in the resistance as well. The Razorbacks have played in the NCAA Tournament just three times in the past 12 seasons, falling from its spot among the NCAA’s best programs.
Arkansas has missed the NCAA Tournament in its first two seasons under coach Mike Anderson. The program hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2008.
Long is certain Anderson is on his way to rebuilding the program, but needs help.
“We all know in fundraising, people give far more to a winner than they do to a program that’s trying to come up,” Long said. “The conversation with donors, they want to be associated with winning programs. There are many reasons why our basketball program hasn’t reached back to the heights we all want it to. But one of those, I will tell you, is a basketball practice facility.
“That doesn’t take the place of a great head coach. That doesn’t take the place of great recruiting. It doesn’t take the place of a great university to attract them to in the first place. I’m very excited about what Mike Anderson’s doing. He’s going to build it. We’re going to get this facility for him and when he does it’s going to be a game-changer, just like the Fred W. Smith Center is for football.”