AIKEN — USC formally added sand volleyball as it 21st sport Thursday and won approval to build new castles for Steve Spurrier’s football team.
Sand volleyball will debut in spring 2014 on $1 million new lighted courts that will be built near the softball field in the Athletics Village, athletics director Ray Tanner said after a USC trustees meeting at the Aiken campus.
USC hired current Gamecocks assistant indoor volleyball coach Moritz Moritz to lead the squad that will have six scholarships to share among up to 14 players, said Judy Van Horn, the department’s senior woman administrator. Indoor players could join the team as well.
Nearly 30 schools, including College of Charleston and Florida State, play sand volleyball as a scholarship sport this year — double from a year ago, according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association web site.
South Carolina is the first SEC school confirmed to offer sand volleyball scholarships, though Tennessee is among the 18 schools nationwide considering the sport, according to the site. The NCAA requires 40 schools to have teams before holding a sand volleyball championship.
Players will not wear skimpy bikini outfits like those worn by three-time U.S. Olympic gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. They will wear tank tops and volleyball shorts, Van Horn said.
In addition to the volleyball courts, trustees gave final approval Thursday for $17.5 million indoor and outdoor football practice fields at the back of the gameday parking lot on the former State Farmers Market. They are scheduled to open in 2015.
The $14.5 million indoor facility, which other schools have built in recent years to attract recruits, will go at the end of the Garnet Way, where players walk before games.
Two outdoor practice fields, costing $3 million, will go where a green-roof shed now is located. USC needs to move because the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the site of current Proving Grounds practice site, wants to expand the neighboring S.C. National Guard headquarters.
Trustees also handed preliminary approval for a $14 million tree-lined plaza to replace the parking lots around Williams-Brice Stadium, $15 million in improvements for track and field and $3.5 million in work for the soccer and tennis teams. All the work could be ready by 2015 if final approvals are given.
USC could issue up to $39 million in new debt backed by athletics revenue. Trustees approved $12 million in bonds for the indoor football practice field Thursday.
If all the projects are approved, the school’s total athletics debt would rise 30 percent to $164 million.
South Carolina plans to generate more money with a $45 increase in football season ticket prices starting this year as well as a renegotiated SEC television contract and a new bowl between the SEC and Big 12 conference on New Year’s Day 2015.
Tanner, the school’s former national champion baseball coach, said USC is in good shape to pay back the additional debt.
“Being in my first year as the director of athletics, there are probably a lot people who may scratching their heads a little bit, but I spent extensive time along with our staff in reviewing these projects and numbers … and I’m very comfortable that we will be fine,” Tanner said.
USC has spent nearly $200 million in athletics-related work since 2005 — including new baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, academic and administration buildings, and a gameday parking area.
The planned plaza around the football stadium will replicate the landscaping at the former State Farmers Market by swapping parking lots for trees, grassy areas and walkways. Parking will go to east side of the stadium along Key Road in place of several S.C. ETV buildings. USC bought the property last year.
The plaza will be named after the widow of the former chairman of the Hooter’s restaurant chain, who has pledged $4.4 million.
The sport getting the biggest makeover is track and field, which has developed several Olympic champions and won a women’s national title in 2002.
Renovations include expanding the track to nine lanes, widening the oval, adding stadium seating and building a field event practice area at the site of the former Roundhouse athletics administration building. USC also plans to convert the current football indoor practice field house into a banked indoor track and field facility with 500 seats.