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June 20, 2014

Tanner gets extension, talks future



Ray Tanner will remain South Carolina's athletics director for the next five years.

Hired two years ago when Eric Hyman left for Texas A&M, Tanner was awarded a two-year extension to his current five-year contract on Friday by the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees along with a 7.4 percent raise.

Tanner's new deal, which expires June 30, 2019, pays him $725,000 per year, an increase of $50,000 over the sum he earned in the first two years at the USC helm following his promotion from Gamecock baseball coach.

"I'm extremely grateful for the support, the faith and the confidence from Dr. (Harris) Pastides and the Board of Trustees," Tanner told a small group of reporters shortly after the unanimous vote. "I love being at this university. I had the greatest job in all of college baseball for many years and now I have the greatest athletics director job in the country. So, I'm very humbled and very appreciative of the opportunity to get an extension."

USC's massive decade-long campaign to upgrade its athletic facilities has continued under Tanner's leadership for the past two years. Over the coming months - or next couple of years - new football practice fields, a football indoor facility, the Williams-Brice Stadium plaza, a much-needed track complex, improved Field House (will feature a new six-lane 200-meter fixed bank track with seating), and a state-of-the-art soccer building adjacent to Stone Stadium are all scheduled for construction.

"Every day, it's a responsibility and certainly a challenge," Tanner said. "It's invigorating that we're trying to enhance the opportunities for our student athletes and coaches to compete at the highest level while never compromising integrity from a compliance or academic perspective.

"We want to enhance facilities as we move forward. Our brand as an athletics department is greater than it ever has been. But we're challenged to continue moving forward. I feel that's a major responsibility of mine. We have wonderful coaches here because it's a destination, not a stepping stone. That's great for us."

USC ranks at or near the top of the SEC for some athletic facilities (baseball, basketball, softball, tennis), in the middle tier for others (football, soccer, volleyball) and near the bottom for some (track and field).

One of Tanner's chief objectives for USC over the next few years is lift every Gamecock sport into the upper quadrant in terms of facilities.

"We have numerous facilities right now that are in the top three or four of the SEC," Tanner said. "We're not there for every spot. I would hope by 2019 we feel we are there."

A new structure featuring offices, locker rooms and practice facility for the men's and women's basketball programs could be on the horizon as long as sufficient funding is secured.

"We're continuing to make improvements for men's and women's basketball as far as their practice facilities," Tanner said. "We're enhancing their situation as we speak. But I would like to have a stand-alone facility in years to come."

Where that new basketball building will be located is the key question. Will it be part of a refurbished Carolina Coliseum or located in the Athletics Village?

"I'm not sure where it will be," Tanner said. "We're having ongoing discussions and Coach (Dawn) Staley and Coach (Frank) Martin are involved in those. I love the Village. We have a great opportunity there. But there are a lot of financial challenges. We have to raise a lot of funds to get into that position.

"Those are just part of the projects we're looking at in the future and hope they become reality."

USC has undertaken a feasibility study for a new basketball building in the Athletics Village, Tanner said.

All 19 of USC's athletic teams posted a multi-year score of 950 or better for the third-consecutive year, according to Academic Progress Rate (APR) statistics released five weeks ago.

"We're achieving academic success at a high level with Maria Hickman and her staff," Tanner said.

Like the rest of his AD brethren in the SEC and the Big 5 conferences, Tanner faces a seismic shift in how the NCAA operates in the future. The NCAA's vote to bestow autonomy to the Big 5 schools on certain 'athlete welfare' issues looms in August, while the ongoing trial in the potentially landmark 'O'Bannon' case could produce significant changes in the right of athletes to be compensated beyond a scholarship.

"We're going to go through a governance change here shortly and we need to be out front on that as a university," Tanner said. "There will be financial strain, without question, for SEC schools, ACC schools and all the others, especially some of the smaller Division I schools. There is going to be more of a money demand if you go cost of education versus cost of scholarship.

"I support the student-athletes and I think it's time for a change. But there will be financial pressure and we have to be ready to meet those changes."

NOTES:

-- The Executive Committee approved an agreement with Delta Airlines for charter flights for the USC football team to four road games in 2014 - Vanderbilt (Sept. 20), Kentucky (Oct. 4), Auburn (Oct. 25) and Florida (Nov. 15). The Gamecocks will bus to Clemson for the Nov. 29 Palmetto Bowl.

-- Tanner reiterated his desire to build more premium seats at Williams-Brice Stadium since USC is next-to-last in the SEC in that category. "That's an area I would love to change the structure at Williams-Brice," Tanner said.

-- While discussed in the past, Tanner said he would like to see the situation at Williams-Brice changed where the coaches' office are situated at one end of the stadium (north) with the team meeting space at the other (south). "They work tremendously in that environment and never complain," Tanner said. "But that needs to be enhanced with possibly an opportunity to create a different structure in the vicinity. There is going to be other challenges.'



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