For years the main athletic goal for Longwood was to find a way into a conference not named the Great West. Politics between Longwood president Patricia Cormier and Winthrop president Anthony DiGiorgio seemingly kept the Lancers from finding a home in the Big South. Longwood continued their pursuit of the Big South but also flirted with the Atlantic Sun Conference and other option. It was to no one’s surprise that when President Cormier retired that the next president, Patrick Finnegan, was able to secure a birth into the Big South. So now that Longwood is in the midst of their inaugural Big South season what is the next step for the athletic department?
One facet that helped LU secure Big South membership were facility updates. Some new facilities were built and some were given a facelift, like Willett Hall. Though many people label Willett as a “high school gym” the arena looks totally different from its pre-Division I days. Willett used to have brown, dingy walls and one of the ugliest courts you have ever seen. Despite its upgrade the next monumental campaign will likely be that of a convocation center for the university. In Longwood 2020, a development plan for ideas for the university to consider for certain enhancements by the year 2020, a convocation center was included and the spot proposed for it was the top of the hill at the far end of Brock Commons near the Fitness Center and Buddy Bolding Stadium.
First off, let me say, I like Willett Hall. The 1,800 seat arena is just about the right size for the university right now and I like the home-court advantage it can provide. With that being said, the university continues to go and Willett has nearly reached its limit of enhancements. Currently, only High Point (1,750) and Charleston Southern (790) have smaller basketball arenas in the Big South. Willett’s capacity was actually closer to 2,500 at the beginning of Longwood’s DI transition, but updated bleachers (and aisles) shrunk the capacity.
Around 2007 or 2008 there was chatter of Longwood and the town of Farmville building a convention center together, which would house Longwood basketball. The center would also host municipal events, concerts, and was mentioned as a future spot for the ODAC basketball tournament. Those plans have seemingly fallen through, which is good news to those who would prefer a building on campus (like me).
Since 2008 three new arenas have been opened in the Big South. Campbell opened the Pope Convocation Center which holds 3,095 fans in 2008. Last year, UNC Asheville opened Kimmel Arena which holds 3,200 patrons and actually hosted both the Big South Championship and the Southern Conference tournament a year ago. Finally, Coastal Carolina opened the HTC Center a 3,600 seat arena this year. Because the HTC Center also includes a student fitness facility the building is not directly comparable to Longwood’s needs.
If you’re looking for a blueprint of what Longwood would need then look the Asheville. The Lancers could likely build a slightly smaller version of Kimmel Arena, which was built for around $7 million. A new arena would take quite a fundraising effort and a capital campaign, but it is certainly not out of the question for the next seven to ten years. Once the community has taken their collective breath from joining the Big South the next mission should be that of a convocation center. Not only does a new arena (and practice facility) enhance Longwood’s recruiting prowess, but also could bring opportunities for events and other functions for the town of Farmville.