OPELIKA, Alabama— Bruce Pearl has his priorities in order.
In early February, Auburn approved a new, standalone practice facility inside Neville Arena for Pearl’s basketball program. No official price tag has been set for the upgrades, which, according to the approval from Auburn’s Board of Trustees, “will construct a second practice gym and renovate the existing team support spaces, which will allow both the men’s and women’s basketball programs to conduct practices at times that are advantageous to student-athletes and bring their facilities to Southeastern Conference competitive standards.”
The board approved Goodwin Mills Caywood as its architect of choice at the following meeting. The project, like most for Auburn athletics, should receive its funding from donors: “It is anticipated that this facility would be funded by gift funds and bonds, with the debt service of the bonds paid for by Athletics Department funds.”
There’s still no timeline for the projection’s completion, though, and the athletic department’s current athletic director search may set things back a bit further.
But that’s not Pearl’s focus right now in terms of where his program’s money should be going.
“Here’s what we’ve got to do: We’ve got to take care of the NIL space first — in all sports,” Pearl said Monday during a conversation with a few reporters before the Bruce, Barkley and Basketball golf fundraiser in Opelika. “First, that’s got to be one of our commitments and our objectives.”
Auburn men’s and women’s hoops currently share one practice gym, adjacent to the main floor, giving the teams a pair of basketball courts to practice with. Neville Arena is the primary court for four major sports at the university, and visiting teams in those respective sports are offered practice time in the arena, as well.
It’s certainly not in the upper echelon in terms of facility perks in the SEC. But it hasn’t affected Auburn’s success under Pearl: three SEC titles, three NCAA tournament appearances, Final Four run, the program’s first No. 1 ranking and four first-round picks over the past five seasons.
“We’ve won sharing the practice facility with the volleyball team and the women’s basketball team and gymnastics being in there,” Pearl said. “That doesn’t transition to winning. Would I love a better teaching space? Would it be easier on our student athletes to be able to, you know, have us not have to share time with everybody? We’re making it work. “
Prior to the 2019-20 season, Auburn spent $3 million to upgrade its men’s and women’s locker rooms, and add additional meeting space and a “team lounge area.” Ahead of the 2020-21 season, the athletic department purchased and installed a new Daktronics scoreboard, featuring a 72-foot, wraparound LED video display. A price tag for the project was never publicly released.
Renamed Neville Arena during last season’s SEC regular-season championship run, Auburn’s home gym opened 12 years ago, officially replacing Beard-Eaves Coliseum, where the Tigers had played since 1969, ahead of the 2010-11 season.
The $86 million venue is the smallest by capacity in the SEC, but over the past five or six years, it has developed a reputation as being one of the toughest — and loudest — places to play in all of college basketball. Tied directly into the energy of Auburn home games is, obviously, the success Pearl has brought to the program, with a 122-44 overall record since the start of the 2017-18 season.
Still, a state-of-the-art facility to pair with a nearly unbeatable home-floor advantage has been on Pearl’s wish list for a few years. But he knows strong NIL funding — like the new On To Victory group, which aims to be Auburn’s flagship NIL collective and surpassed its first-year goals in less than two months — are more pivotal for recruiting success right now.
“When we do it, we’re gonna do it right,” Pearl said. “When we do it, we’re gonna do it right. But we’ve got some other things to take care of before we take care of the practice facility.”
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