Georgia Southern Wants a New Basketball Arena, Does it Need One?

The Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation has commissioned a feasibility study for a new 6,500 seat coliseum on campus:

Georgia Southern University’s Athletic Foundation has taken a bold step forward in beginning the process to determine the feasibility of constructing a new coliseum to replace the aging Hanner Field House.

Local governmental entities and GSU have been in discussions for the past three years regarding the need for a larger facility to accommodate the needs of the university and the community. Two popular locations they will explore to construct a proposed 6,500-seat coliseum is the corner of Fair Road and Tillman (which was the location of the original football practice fields) and across the bypass from Paulson Stadium in what is now called the South Campus expansion area.

The Athletic Foundation confirmed the study in a statement released this week.

As it states above, discussions for a new arena to replace the aging Hanner Fieldhouse have been in the works for three years between University and local officials. Fans have been clamoring for a new basketball (and other things) facility for even longer. Anyone who has ever set foot in Hanner will tell that it is small and old. Despite a series of renovations over the years, there is only so much lipstick that can you can put on a pig.

Hanner is a historic building; named for the late W.S. “Shep” Hanner, the school’s faculty athletic chairman from 1935 to 1959. The Rolling Stones played their first college act in the U.S. in Hanner Gym in 1965. It’s where the 1985 and 1992 TAAC (now the A-Sun) basketball tournaments took place. When I was a junior, President George W. Bush spoke there in 2006. I saw James Carville and Mary Matalin speak there. Migos was arrested on gun and drug charges in 2015 after a show at Hanner.

It has a unique charm. The arena is but a small part of the overall complex. Another small gym, a pool, classrooms, and athletic offices populate the rest of the building. It’s uses have evolved a lot since 1969. The arena has excellent acoustics, and it is an incredibly intimate fan experience. Hanner Hooligans know this. When there are decent crowds for home games, it can get deafening. You are right on top of the action.

But Hanner no longer fits the needs of an institution with over 27,000 students. The capacity of Hanner has steadily shrunk over the years, from 5,500 in 1993 to 3,897 today. It can no longer appropriately host December graduation ceremonies for a school of that size.

Georgia Southern Basketball struggles to get decent out-of-conference opponents to visit Statesboro. Savannah is building a new arena of their own. It has been tossed around from time to time as a possibility to draw big name teams to the Coastal Empire. But that can only go so far.

Savannah is not Statesboro. College basketball crowds are heavily campus-based. It’s student-led.

Does Georgia Southern Basketball need a 6,500 seat arena? Hanner rarely sells out, not even when hated rivals Georgia State comes to town. The average home attendance the past couple years has been a hair over 1,800 per game. That is despite fielding some very competitive and entertaining squads the past few years. The baseball team outdraws the basketball team from time to time.

I can’t blame the fans either. Things just haven’t been the same since the legendary Frank Kerns stepped down in 1994. The program hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1992. They haven’t made the NIT since 2006. Their lone trip to the CBI in 2017 ended in a 74-49 defeat to UTAH VALLEY.

The Jeff Price era was competitive but ended in disaster. Charlton Young was a fun nostalgia trip, he but didn’t know how to win. Mark Byington is probably the best since Kerns, which isn’t saying a whole lot. Basketball gets only a small fraction of the funding football gets. Baseball is sometimes considered the 2nd most popular sport on campus, at least they’ve been to two College World Series.

It’s a compelling argument. Because on the one hand, there’s no way Georgia Southern can fill a 6,500 seat arena for a basketball game anytime soon. They can’t even crack 2,000 on a regular basis. But on the other hand, a new coliseum means better opponents could visit. It would help recruiting. Better recruits could get the Eagles in the tournament. College basketball could become cool again in Statesboro, as it was in the 80’s and early 90’s. Would fans start going then? (The old build it, and they will come argument)

But when you consider the musical guests, speakers, politicians, comedians, and ceremonies that a new arena could draw. The argument for a new complex come into focus. Georgia Southern University is a large, regional institution now. Division II schools like West Georgia and Valdosta State have larger arenas than Georgia Southern does. Statesboro still and will always be the proverbial Rome in the growing Eagle Empire. It’s time to build it a proper coliseum.

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