Tuesday’s news that Clemson will be adding a varsity softball team is welcome news for many fans and alumni. As Dan Radakovich stated in his press release, the lack of softball at Clemson University is a somewhat common question for athletics. Looking at both the ACC and the southeast at large, Clemson’s lack of a softball team is conspicuous.
But as great as that news is, the departure of the women’s diving team is a sad but inevitable decision. The bungled decision to drop men’s swimming and diving as well as women’s swimming back in 2010 meant the women’s diving team was always going to be the odd team out. Title IX compliance was the only reason the sport continued at Clemson.
Now though we turn our attention to softball and look at the future. The addition of softball isn’t a money saver. Even without building a new stadium and facilities softball is a more expensive sport than diving. Looking at numbers for several other schools, expenses will run in the $2-$2.5 million range. Diving was approximately $1.3 million at other schools for a comparison. That means Clemson is going to be shelling out an additional $1 million or so in annual expenses. But with that they could also see an additional $300K increase in revenue to offset that increase in expenses.
There is also the question of a stadium to consider. From some research, stadium costs vary widely. Texas A&M recently built a new softball stadium along with an indoor hitting facility. The total cost was around $28 million. On the other hand Michigan State built a new softball stadium for around $2 million. Missouri’s brand new stadium cost $17 million. Auburn is also upgrading their stadium for about $15 million. For this let’s just say the budget is going to be around $20 million for Clemson.
The immediate concern many are going to have is why money should go to starting a new sport instead of football. It is an inevitable complaint anytime some new facility or improvement is approved. The simple answer is that the money for a stadium is not being taken from football. Facility building is done through major gift donations. This is where IPTAY solicits donations for the expressed purpose of building the stadium. They will try to convince major donors to Clemson athletics that they shoould part with several million dollars of their money to help build a softball stadium. Someone will also likely pony up enough money to get a stand or stadium named after them.
This is not money IPTAY would otherwise have access to for more football coaches or higher salaries. Everyone can breathe easy knowing that the football program is ok and won’t suffer from this. Same with basketball and baseball.
So if the sport is more expensive why would Clemson add it. And the answer is in PR and other revenue streams. Softball gets much more coverage than any swimming and diving. Games can be found on a variety of ESPN networks and the new ACC Network will provide even more exposure. From the standpoint of growing Clemson athletics and the university softball is the best choice that Clemson can make right now.
Compared to other sports, like lacrosse, fencing, or other ACC-sponsored athletics, softball gives Clemson University the biggest presence. It also helps that the Tigers could conceivably challenge for ACC and national titles if the program is built properly. That was unlikely to ever happen with diving because of the lack of commitment towards facilities from a previous AD.
In addition to just why Clemson is adding softball, there is a big question out there and that is where a stadium will go. If the stadium is going to remain in the athletic area, there is really only one option and that is the grassy area past the outfield of Doug Kingsmore.
And honestly this is probably the best place to put a stadium. The stadium itself will be rather small. Softball fields are not as big as baseball fields and capacity is likely to only be in the 1,000 - 3,000 range. Enough that fans won’t be turned away, but not some cavernous stadium that would never get filled.
But one question that was raised was what about parking. The grassy area is used for both RVs during football season and a lot of parking for baseball games is done there. Obviously that couldn’t happen anymore, but how far would cars be displaced and how would it affect tailgating.
The presence of a stadium means P-4 (right by Jervey) would be the first parking for baseball and softball. That is about 90 spaces. After that C-3 (West Endzone) would become the primary parking lot. There are about 400 plus spaces there, giving Clemson a good 500 parking spaces. From there the area around Littlejohn would be filled in, E-7 behind home plate, and if needed other parking by the football stadium could be used.
From the looks of it I think parking for baseball would just be different. Fans wouldn’t have to park at Y beach or some ridiculous distance away, but they just wouldn’t be in the grassy area. And depending on the size of the softball stadium I think some of that grassy area would be paved to provide additional parking spaces.
And frankly even if there is a slight discomfort for baseball parking, it is worth the hassle. Clemson baseball has a strong enough tradition that walking an extra 100 yards isn’t going to change it. That walk is worth it to ensure that softball is done properly. If the AD is going to spend the money to start up softball it deserves to be done correctly. A stadium off campus or on the fringe of campus by itself isn’t going to draw many fans and importantly it isn’t going to draw many students. That’s where atmosphere and interest come from and positioning the stadium near other athletic venues is critical to lowering the barrier of entry for students.