University of Alabama Athletics Director Greg Byrne appeared on The Next Round to offer new details about a planned $183 million arena for basketball and gymnastics and offered an update on possible beer sales at campus venues.
Concept images of the arena were released when the project was presented to the University of Alabama System board of trustees. It will seat an estimated 10,300 people and design elements include basketball seating for students surrounding three-quarters of the court at the lowest levels.
Appearing on the streaming program with Jim Dunaway, Ryan Brown and Lance Taylor, Byrne said part of the design influence came from the former McArthur Court at the University of Oregon, which he remembers being a difficult place for visiting teams to play. Byrne lived in Eugene when his father was athletic director at Oregon from 1984-1992.
“It was a great, intimate environment,” he said. “And I think one of the things with architecture now as we talk about college sports, having that type of intimate environment is something that I think really is a difference-maker from the impact it has on your team, the impact it has on the energy with your fans they’re able to produce during a game.”
Byrne said the university is looking at either renovating the current Coleman Coliseum or building a new arena and, from a fundraising standpoint, building a new arena has more momentum.
The reaction has been close to a slam dunk, Byrne said.
“The response that we’ve received from our fan base has been very positive and I can tell you that the response internally within our athletic department – we had a head coaches call this morning – has been very positive, too.”
Taylor asked Byrne about the timetable moving forward.
“I’d like to put a shovel in the ground tomorrow if we could,” Byrne said, noting that the board of trustees controls the building of facilities.
He said final decisions on costs and site must be determined. An architect will need about a year of design work, to be followed by an 18-month construction schedule.
Byrne acknowledged the impact Luke “Fluff” Ratliff had on Crimson Chaos, the student section during basketball games. Ratliff, known affectionately as “Fluffopotamus,” was president of Crimson Chaos and died of complications related to COVID-19 last April.
“I tell you, our man Fluff, he deserves a ton of credit for the energy he brought to our student section and Crimson Chaos, and that has continued to carry on after the very sad passing of him last year,” Byrne said. “We want to make sure that the energy that our students are bringing right now, we are really proud of them. So, let’s reward them – give them a place to be around the court, create that energy. I think that will be a difference-maker for us.”
Byrne said the Tuscaloosa City Council recently approved a measure that paves the way for alcohol sales at on-campus venues and he expects that could happen at Coleman Coliseum soon.
“I anticipate it happening this season,” he said. “Be on the lookout.”
Byrne said beer sales will start at men’s and women’s basketball events, and the university will look at expanding sales to other on-campus sporting events and venues if that goes smoothly.
The Next Round is hosted by Jim Dunaway, Ryan Brown and Lance Taylor and can be watched on YouTube and Facebook or heard on smart speakers and podcast streaming live weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.