An exciting era in the history of the University of South Carolina and the athletics department opened in November, 2002, with the unveiling of Colonial Life Arena (originally The Colonial Center - it was renamed in July 2008). The South Carolina women's team, coming off the best season in school history, christened the building with a Nov. 22 matchup against arch-rival Clemson, while the men opened 2002-03 action on Nov. 24 against East Tennessee State.
Colonial Life Arena, with a seating capacity of nearly 18,000 for basketball and 19,000 for other events, is the crown jewel of USC, Columbia, the Midlands and the entire state of South Carolina. Not only is Colonial Life Arena the largest arena in the state, it opened as the 10th-largest on-campus basketball facility in the nation and the fourth-largest in the Southeastern Conference.
But the building is far from being only basketball. Colonial Life Arena has and will continue to attract big-time events, ranging from big-time sports like Gamecock basketball, NCAA Tournaments and NBA and NHL exhibition games, to big-time events from world-class concerts to figure skating to earth-shaking motorsports. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band entertained fans in Dec., 2002 and Colonial Life Arena hosted freestyle motocross, Champions on Ice, World Wrestling Entertainment Smackdown, Disney On Ice, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band, and many other family shows and entertainment during its first few months after opening.
The primary tenant from November through March is Gamecock basketball, and many of the design features of Colonial Life Arena were put in place with that in mind.
At the forefront of the arena design was configuration for an expanded student section to help give the Gamecocks one of the best homecourt advantages in the SEC. Almost 500 sideline seats extending the length of the court were designed with students in mind as those seats are depressed to allow individuals to stand while not blocking the views of seated spectators above.
The sideline court seats for students more than double the 198 sideline court seats available to students at the Carolina Coliseum. Approximately 1,700 student seats below the portals in Colonial Life Arena also are more than double the 833 available student seats below the portals at the Carolina Coliseum.
The building has an intimate double-deck design that put every seat close to the action on the court. The distance from midcourt to the last seat in Colonial Life Arena is roughly the same distance as midcourt to the last seat in the Carolina Coliseum. More than 5,000 additional seats are packed into Colonial Life Arena, providing the ultimate homecourt advantage. The cantilever (or overlap) of the upper deck over the lower deck extends further than any other arena of its size with great sight lines.
The design of the arena also is unique, as the seating configuration is very tight for basketball while expandable for other events. To achieve this, the 212-foot floor is completely exposed by pushing back just one end of stands. This allows for long floor events such as rodeos, a three-ring circus, hockey and motocross. Colonial Life Arena is one of just a handful of arenas in the United States with an unidirectional floor configuration.
There are 41 private suites and other premium seating options in Colonial Life Arena, including also are four 42-seat entertainment suites and the 4,500-square foot McGuire Club overlooking the floor. And highlighting the arena is a state-of-the-art multi-million dollar scoreboard with four high-definition video screens (12 mm). The scoreboard exhibits the latest technology and provides fans with the best video experience. Enhancing the basketball experience are two scoreboards on the facing of the upper deck and two "hustle" boards, keeping fans up to date on rebounds, steals, assists and the like.
The are a variety of food court favorites available for fans at the games, as well as stands set up in the spacious concourse with other family food favorites. In fact, the extra-wide concourse serves both the upper and lower bowls and features celebrated student-athletes in Carolina history and "Carolina Great Moments," a series of sports highlights in Gamecock athletics history. There also are 296 public restroom facilities (compared to 79 in the Carolina Coliseum) with almost a three-to-one ratio of women's restrooms compared to men's.
The use of a single concourse helped to save some $8-10 million of construction costs with another construction feature saving nearly $20 million. The 342,000 square foot arena is being built partly on a berm, saving 100,000 square feet of space at $164 per square foot. Approximately half of the lower-bowl seats sitting on dirt as office and lockerroom space was more efficiently allocated.
These savings kept the overall project in the $64 million range to construct the largest building ever at the University of South Carolina and the largest arena in the Palmetto State. Of that $64 million, the USC Athletics Department was responsible for $44 million, with any annual shortfall coming out of the athletics department's operating budget. The $64 million figure does not include land acquired for the site that was obtained in an exchange involving a Norfolk & Southern donation to the University.
Even before Colonial Life Arena opened its doors, the building already was turning heads at CBS Sports, as Bob Dekas, the CBS Coordinating Producer of NCAA Basketball, marveled at the building's layout while conducting a television site survey.
"The Colonial Center is one of the nicest on-campus basketball arenas that I have ever seen," said Dekas. "And I say this having done every basketball arena survey for CBS Sports for the last 19 years."
Carolina fans showed their enthusiasm when 12,000 men's season tickets were sold -- the most ever for the Gamecock basketball program (the previous high was 8,200) -- and public season ticket sales taking place for the first time in more than a decade before the arena opened its doors.
And Colonial Life Arena proved to be the place to be for people in the Midlands and the state of South Carolina as well, as the "Crown Jewel" since its grandest of openings in November 2002.FAST FACTS ABOUT COLONIAL LIFE ARENA
Did you know that Colonial Life Arena ...
Did you know that Colonial Life Arena ...