UC Riverside looking into unconventional methods to fund on-campus arena

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The arms race that is college athletics. If schools aren’t looking to raise funds for a new stadium or arena the efforts are usually geared towards a new practice facility or weight room.

But it’s easy for the “big boys” to call up alums or rely on a couple wealthy boosters to fund their projects. What do the smaller schools do when they’re in need of funding for a new project?

According to Allan Steele of the Riverside Press-Enterprise UC Riverside is looking into a new approach in raising money for an on-campus basketball arena, and it’s one that isn’t too common in college athletics.

The EB-5 program is one instituted by the federal government to reward foreign investors who help boost the American economy through the creation of jobs capital investment.

The reward for these investors: a green card and what amounts to a fast track to becoming an American citizen.

The program has been used to help fund projects in Temecula, Murrieta and San Bernardino and even the Rose Bowl has pursued EB-5 funds to help with renovation costs. It’s believed UCR is the first university to use the program for an athletic facility project.

Here’s how the program works. A foreign investor antes up $500,000 or $1 million (depending on the area) and creates at least 10 domestic jobs from that investment. The investor gets a green card and after two years can apply to live in the U.S. permanently.

The program is a popular option for wealthy foreign investors to get on the fast track to a visa. It’s also been popular with American businesses looking for alternative ways to help fund projects in a tough U.S. economy.

UC Riverside athletic director Brian Wickstrom, who was hired by the school in 2011, made the building of a new basketball arena one of his chief goals when he arrived at the school.

With that in mind, Wickstrom flew to Shanghai to attend a convention that helps connect Americans to possible investors who are interested in the EB-5 program.

There was enough interest in the C-Center project that an estimated $20 to $30 million was committed, said Jeff Hopkins, president of the Hopkins Group, an Irvine-based company that has put together EB-5 funding for local projects and is working on the C-Center funding.

“You typically relied on bond money or fundraising,” Hopkins said of past ways to finance a large project like the C-Center. “Given where we are in the economy, especially at the state level, this project would not get built through traditional way of funding.”

Up next for UC Riverside is a look into the feasibility of such a project, which includes a look into how much the building of the C-Center would cost.

Apparently there have been plans for building an on-campus arena since the 1970s but nothing’s ever happened.

Looking at the current strength of the Big West, not to mention the arrival of San Diego State next season (maybe Boise State too), such an undertaking may be just what UC Riverside needs to establish itself within the conference.

The Highlanders have finished above .500 just once since joining the Big West in 2001, and that was their 17-13 mark in 2008-09.

Not getting a shiny new arena wouldn’t doom UC Riverside to the bottom half of the conference, but the lack of one would make things tougher in the future.

Photo credit: Riverside Press-Enterprise

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.