Alabama approves Coleman Coliseum upgrades: What does it mean for a new basketball arena?

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The Alabama board of trustees officially voted to pass a proposal on significant upgrades to the Coleman Coliseum basketball facilities on Friday. The proposed project consists of a 48,800 square-foot expansion on the southeast corner of Coleman Coliseum while renovating approximately 19,000 square feet of existing team space.

Once completed, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will have their own respective practice facilities and weight rooms along with player development areas, locker rooms, lounges, film rooms, equipment room, sports medicine spaces and offices. The men’s team will occupy the newly constructed space, and the 19,000 existing square feet will be renovated for use by the women’s basketball team. It’s a particularly significant development for the women’s program, which will be able to bring all day-to-day operations under Coleman Coliseum’s roof. The team currently trains in Foster Auditorium.

The total cost of renovations is $58.674 million — $36.95 million in new bond funding, $20 million from Crimson Standard cash and $1.725 million from university central reserves. While the talks of a new arena continue to loom, this project is a sizable investment into basketball programs that are carrying a ton of momentum. The men’s team just reached its first Final Four and the women’s team has made three NCAA Tournament appearances in the past four years.

What does that mean for a new arena?

It’s not a matter of if, but when — even if it’s taken longer than expected to make significant progress. In February 2022, the UA System board of trustees greenlit the planning of a new basketball and gymnastics arena, which featured a price tag of around $183 million. Over time, due to inflation, that cost has ballooned to around $250 million.

The impending House v. NCAA settlement also complicates matters, as it will open the door for a multi-billion-dollar agreement that stands to reshape college sports, including $2.75 billion in back-pay damages the NCAA will owe to former Division I athletes, as well as a future revenue sharing model with athletes. In other words, there’s going to be additional costs for athletic departments. The effects are taking place elsewhere in the SEC already. On April 23, Texas A&M announced nearly 20 athletic administration layoffs due to what new athletic director Trev Alberts called “unprecedented change in the world of intercollegiate athletics.”

Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne sat down with The Athletic in May to discuss how these changes and more would impact Alabama and other universities’ athletics finances. “It’s going to stretch it,” he said.

The approved practice facility construction is a nice compromise in the short-term. And in some ways it could be more beneficial to the actual programs, as the majority of their time is spent in those spaces as opposed to playing under the Coleman lights. A new arena is needed, no question, but this upgrade illustrates Byrne’s willingness to commit to the basketball programs as much as he can for now. That’s one of the reasons why Nate Oats spurned other opportunities this offseason to stay at Alabama.

“As a program, we spend a majority of our time in the practice gym, the weight room and studying film,” Oats said. “The potential for us to have a new and expanded space for our student-athletes to develop is big for our program.”

The hope is for the facility to be completed by the 2026 season, and another silver lining is that this new construction won’t be altered by the impending new arena. Think of it as a head start — even if it’s an auxiliary space.

(Photo: Butch Dill / USA Today)

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