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June 9, 2011

Video Board On Next BOT Meeting Agenda

The lengthy approval process for a new multi-million dollar video scoreboard at Williams-Brice Stadium is about to begin.

Confirming what Gamecock Central first reported two days ago, South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman said Wednesday that the Board of Trustees' Intercollegiate Athletics Committee will be asked to give a preliminary (Phase I) thumbs up to the $6.5 million project at their next scheduled meeting on June 17.

"In the time I've been here, the video board is something the fans have expressed a lot of desire to have." Hyman told Gamecock Central in an exclusive interview at his office. "This is way we can give back to them and tell them thank you for their support."

The full Board of Trustees is expected to approve the video board project on June 30.

"You never assume anything, but I think the Board members are very receptive to going forward with the project," Hyman said.

But the expected consent of the Board will simply be the first step of a marathon 18-month process mandated by the S.C. Procurement Code that twice requires the approval of three separate governmental agencies, ending with the S.C. Budget and Control Board.

Before reaching the SCBCB, the Council of Higher Education and the Joint Bond Review Committee of the S.C. Legislature must first sign off on the project.

"Once we get the Board of Trustees' approval, then we're into the government process," Hyman said. "Unfortunately, we can't accelerate the process because it's controlled by their dates."

When granted full Phase I approval, USC will have the authority to hire an architect for the video board project.

When the architect completes the drawings, the approximate cost of the entire project will be known and USC will seek Phase II approval for funding the project by taking the same steps starting with the Board of Trustees and then on through the three aforementioned government agencies.

Once full Phase II approval is given, USC will have the authority to solicit bids for the purchase and installation of the video board. Hyman hopes that when companies start bidding on the project, the total price will fall given the state of the economy.

"The marketplace is conducive to putting projects in the pipeline, no question about it," Hyman said.

USC officials hope to have installed in time for the 2013 season the new board that "Gamecock Nation so badly wants," Hyman said.

Engineering studies completed over a year ago concluded the North End Zone area (the one with the Eddie Floyd Building) could support a massive structure like the planned video board, Hyman said.

The board will span the width of the Floyd building, and USC will be able to work around the board should the school decide to expand Williams-Brice Stadium in the future. The key, Hyman and Executive Associate AD Kevin O'Connell said, is building a foundation strong enough to allow the board to withstand high winds.

"The current video board is at its maximum wind capacity. So, to build something bigger you have to have a better structure and more support," Hyman said. "What we'll do is have more support to handle the size of the video board to be able to handle the wind."

The proposed size of the new video board (36 feet-by-124 feet) will make it significantly larger than the current board, which measures 20 feet-by-29 feet, and approximately the same size as the one at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.

Problems with the current board include the inferior size compared to other boards around the SEC and the poor quality of the images. In fact, many fans are unable to see the picture during an afternoon game played in brilliant sunshine.

Because USC is close to reaching its maximum bond capacity, Hyman said most of the funds devoted to paying the video board's $6.5 million price tag have come from private donations and advertisers.

As of today, about $5.25 million (80 percent) has been pledged by donors for the project, an amount sufficient to move forward with the long approval process. USC officials hope to raise the remaining $1 million over the next several months.

"From a funding standpoint, we would like to do as much as we can privately," Hyman said. "Typically, pledges are paid anywhere from one to five years. By 2013, we anticipate having the dollars, but we don't think it will slow the project down. A wide cross-section of people (have pledged). It's a continuation of Gamecock Nation supporting it.

"I anticipate the video board being up there in 2013."

Hyman confirmed one or more gifts to help pay for the video board exceed $1 million.

"We've had good support for it," Hyman said. "The fans want it. We did a survey last year and out of the 1,900 people we talked with an overwhelming number felt very strongly about the video board and we're trying to meet their needs."

About $2 million of the total cost for the video board will pay for the upgrade and operation of a 'control room' on the west side of Williams-Brice Stadium where several employees will be stationed during each home game operating he board.

"If you go into the video board control rooms at Georgia, Mississippi or Tennessee, it almost looks like you're at Cape Canaveral,' Hyman said. "You will be stunned at how extensive the control room is. That's what we're end up having. But there's a cost to it."

USC hopes to utilize the video board control room to expand their capabilities to produce videos for the school's web site and other projects.

"What we do with videos has really exploded," Hyman said. "It's the coaches shows and everything else. We do those things anyway. But we had to modernize. So, we're going to maximize it. The timing is perfect."

In addition to endorsing the new video board, the Board will also be asked to approve the proposed fiscal year 2011-2012 athletic department budget. A year ago, USC projected almost $77 million in revenues, and that number is expected to grow by a couple of million dollars for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The SEC announced last week in Destin, Fla. that the 12 conference schools will each receive an average of $18.3 million from the yearly distribution, not including an additional $14 million to be paid to the schools that appeared in bowl games.

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