VCU upgrades could mean Siegel Center expansion

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Two seasons ago, VCU crashed the Final Four as an 11-seed. Since then, coach Shaka Smart has kept the Rams relevant.

With the move to the Atlantic 10, the entire athletic program is trying to take itself further, this time with the introduction by Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin’s five-year plan, which he calls “VCU Rising: The Black and Gold Standard.”

The plan includes eight themes: strengthening VCU’s Division I position; enriching the student-athlete experience; expecting academic success; providing championship quality facilities; growing athletics revenues; sustaining fiscal responsibility; embracing equity and diversity; and constructing an optimal Division I infrastructure.

The goal appears to be $14-$16 million in gifts in order to build a new basketball practice facility, which McLaughlin said the program hopes to have by the end of the summer. One of the goals is also to expand the Siegel Center, which has sold out 35 straight games and is considered one of the top mid-major atmospheres in the country. McLaughlin said the department can do it, while still maintaining the arena’s reputation of being, well, incredibly raucous.

“(Capacity) could be 9,000,” he said. “It could be 10,000. It could be 12,000.”

Part of me wonders why the VCU athletic department waited on this. It’s been over two years, and while Shaka Smart has done a great job of maintaining the program’s success — and shown that he is committed to the Rams — you can’t help but wonder why they didn’t start this earlier. Possibly back in 2011 when the VCU name was at its hottest.

The $14-$16 million in gifts is going to be tough to get, but VCU is a public university with an enrollment of over 30,000 students. That’s a lot of alumni. And some of the funds have already been secured. Plus Richmond and the surrounding area (not to mention Washington D.C. as a neighbor about two hours away) has a lot of wealth to pass around.

(UPDATE: Looks like VCU has secured almost $10 million of the $14-$16 million needed for the practice facility. Thanks for Miles Wilhelm and @DistrictBaller for the tips. )

Also, can you imagine a 12,000-seat Siegel Center? As loud as it is now….

Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten