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June 17, 2014

Rising debt doesn't fluster Tanner

For the last eight years, South Carolina has engaged in a comprehensive athletic facility enhancement campaign unprecedented in school history.

The cost, though, hasn't been cheap.

The three latest undertakings in the pipeline - football indoor practice facility, new track and field complex and Williams-Brice Stadium plaza beautification project - were partially financed through the issuance of $39.9 million in long-term bonds.

As a result, the athletic department's outstanding debt is projected to rise to $156.38 million by the end of Fiscal Year 2014-15 next June.

Annual debt service payments will jump from $8.34 million in FY 2013-14 to $10.85 million in FY 2014-15, according to documents disclosed to the Board of Trustees last Friday.

Thanks to rapidly increasing revenues, athletic director Ray Tanner doesn't anticipate any difficulties meeting the payment obligations.

"We'll continue to operate in the black, that's a given," Tanner insisted shortly after unveiling a new yearly budget plan pinning department revenues at $94.06 million for the next 12 months. "Obviously, we prepare for debt service. I firmly believe that if you don't invest, you're not going to get a return. We're investing. Is it financial pressure or financial strain? No. I'm not going to be in that situation. That would be foolish. We can service the debt we have."

Last season, Gamecock fans paid a bond fee of $8.00 per ticket, a revenue stream projected that added $3.47 million to the athletic department's coffers. When basketball season began, fans paid a bond fee of $4.00 per ticket for men's games and $1.00 per ticket for women's games.

In addition, every USC student paid a facility fee of $34.50 per semester for a total intake of $1.6 million, while the athletic department contributed $2.85 million towards the total debt service obligation of $8.34 million in FY 2013-14.

Under state law, the USC athletic department is allowed to borrow up to $200 million. By this time next year, 78.2 percent of that maximum will have been exhausted.

However, the launch of the SEC Network on August 14 means potentially new revenues for USC and the other 13 conference schools starting in FY 2014-15.

"We have an opportunity to invest because we can afford to service it," Tanner said. "At some point, if that number (debt figure) continues to grow, would I be uncomfortable? Only if I think we have pressures to service it. It's like paying for your house. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you can't service the debt you've got.

"We're competing in a league that is part of the equation. We haven't always been there."


-- Tanner on having to find a successor to Steve Spurrier at some point down the road: "(I think about it) all the time. He's a legend, he's an icon. We've had a lot of wonderful things happen at this university athletically. Certainly, he's at the forefront. If that's the case (hiring a new football coach) while I'm the athletics director, many people say that's how you will be defined. Finding somebody to replace him is not going to be an easy task. But, at this point, who knows how long he will coach? There are two baseball coaches in the College World Series that are 74."

-- Tanner said he believes there is "more than one" USC assistant football coach currently on staff that will someday become a head coach.

-- The overall grade point average for all athletic teams was 3.222 in the spring semester with 15 of 17 squads earning GPAs above 3.0. It was the 15th consecutive semester USC has registered a department-wide GPA higher than 3.0. In addition, the football team posted a multi-year score in the top 10 percent of all Division I (FBS) programs.

-- Tanner on former Gamecock standouts and major leaguers Landon Powell (head coach) and Jon Coutlangus (pitching coach) taking over at North Greenville College: "Coutlangus is the most underrated pitching coach in the United States. He's good. I'm tickled for Landon and Jon and my coaching tree." After playing outfield for USC, Coutlangus pitched two years with the Cincinnati Reds. Powell appeared in 123 games over three seasons as a backup catcher for the Oakland A's and even caught a perfect game. He hit 10 homers and drove in 45 runs in 363 career at-bats.

South Carolina NEWS


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