They are basketball schools, among the greatest.
Auburn, of the SEC, claims three Heisman Trophy winners, including Bo Jackson and Cam Newton, and the 13th-most wins in FBS history. The Tigers seized their own BCS national football championship in 2010.
If basketball at the schools is not an afterthought, it takes the secondary seats in the middle of a very large financial bus. Consider: Auburn’s football budget, in 2016-17, was $42.8 million for football, $9.6 million for basketball; Clemson was at $43.9 million and $6.3 milllion.
You say that it’s simply the difference in the cost of doing business between the two sports?
Look at Duke: Krzyzewski is lavished with $19.5 million for basketball. Football gets just a touch more, $24 million.
It speaks to the challenges that even Power 5 football schools can face when it comes to the hardwood, and what a rare feat it is that fourth-seeded Auburn and fifth-seeded Clemson have advanced to face each other in an NCAA Tournament second-round game on Sunday at Viejas Arena.
The winner advances in the Midwest Regional to the Sweet 16, and that is rare territory for both schools. Clemson was last there in 1997, and it was 2003 for Auburn.
“We’re not a quite a basketball school yet,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell said with a smile Saturday after his team practiced.
Could he ever imagine surpassing football?
“That would get me in trouble with a lot of people to answer the question that way,” he said. “No, but I do think what I’m optimistic about is that we can certainly co-exist in a positive way.”
Apparently, they already do, with Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney organizing regular basketball games in the Tigers’ beautiful new basketball facility (think SDSU’s JAM Center, with orange paw prints). Swinney hands out jerseys with a logo for the NBA — Noontime Basketball Association.
“He’s a chucker,” Brownell said of Swinney’s hoops approach. “He’s going to get his shots and there is really nobody in the gym unless it’s me to tell him he’s shot too much.”
Brownell said that in the small town of Clemson, S.C. (pop. 13,905), he has several football coaches who live on his block, and close relationships have their advantages.
“I know schools talk about family, and I cringe because I’ve been at other schools and I hear other people talk about it,” Brownell said. “At Clemson, we live it.”
For recruiting, it’s common to schedule basketball recruit visits in the fall during a Saturday home game for Clemson, which plays in Memorial Stadium, more popularly known as “Death Valley.”
“It’s an incredible experience,” Brownell said. “It’s an incredible weekend, and whenever we bring a recruit, people that aren’t from the area, they’re shocked, because it’s special.”
Clemson at least hails from a conference better known for its basketball. In the SEC, there are 13 schools, and two lean harder on basketball: Kentucky and Vanderbilt. (Though it should be noted the SEC got eight teams into the tournament.)
Bruce Pearl, who has been Auburn’s head coach for four seasons and spent six years at another football school, Tennessee, said he tries to flip the narrative.
The SEC, he contends, is known for its quickness and aggressive defense in football.
“Why can’t we relate that to basketball?” Pearl said. “Wasn’t South Carolina big, strong and fast? Or Florida? Kentucky? Tennessee basketball right now is big and strong and fast.
“So rather than making excuses, we say, you know what, SEC basketball is a lot like football. We were big, strong and fast (on Friday) in beating College of Charleston. Our athleticism, speed, our toughness created 21 turnovers, and that was a big factor for us.”
In the matchup for Sunday, Auburn and Clemson meet for the 28th time, with Auburn leading the series 15-12. The last time they met in, late December of 2015, Clemson won, 72-61.
Auburn (26-7) struggled early on offense (28-percent shooting in the first half) against College of Charleston and had to sweat out a 62-58 result that was still in the balance in the closing minute.
Pearl got strong play from guard Mustapha Heron (16 points) and forward Desean Murray (11 points, seven rebounds), but acknowledged he needs a better effort from guard Bryce Brown. The Tigers’ second-leading scorer tried 10 3-pointers, and 11 shots total, and made just three.
“Bryce Brown is a real key for us,” Pearl said.
Clemson has a three-pronged guard attack that has been extremely effective since star Donte Grantham was lost to a season-ending injury in January. Shelton Mitchell (23 points), Gave DeVoe (22) and Marcquise Reed (15) accounted for 60 of the Tigers’ 79 points against the Aggies on Friday.
“A lot of similarities, especially with the guard play,” Brownell said of the two teams. “They have terrific guards. They rebound the fire out of the ball, attack the glass with three and sometimes four guys. I think we’ll need to do a good job in that area as well.”