Patience is a Virtue
As I said yesterday, it's difficult to find anything concrete in yesterday's announcement. It appears the primary purpose was to acknowledge Philip Purcell's (very generous) leadership gift on the project, which is important given that it puts the effort closer to fruition than ever. But it's not like there are bulldozers at the ready to start moving earth, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
It was said at the presser the concept drawings didn't represent the finished product, and more than a few people on campus are saying they're not going to be even close to what is eventually done. So it appears many decisions are yet to be made. Until those decisions are made, I, for one, am going to sit back and see where it goes.
I don't expect we will get weekly (or even monthly) updates on progress. This is the time when the designs are shaken up a bit and people reflect on how the $24.7m is best spent. That also is important, as no mistakes have been made yet.
(I realize that viewpoint seems pessimistic, but I look across Juniper Road at the PAC monstrosity (cost overruns in the tens of millions and yet seats fewer people than Washington Hall), then quickly glance north at the Jordan Science Building (planned so well they had to use some of ND's bowl money to buy microscopes for it), and it doesn't fill me with the greatest of confidence we can avoid hiccups here)
There's plenty of time to do this right. No worries should come from a lack of news in the next couple of months. We're probably looking at a start date somewhere in the 2007-08 school year anyway. So patient we should be.
As a last statement (public, anyway) until real news comes out, I'd like to revisit my punch list of things to do with this $25m. I'd start with the first item on the list, and knock items out until the money ran dry.
New Practice Facilities. Back in May, I said this was the part of the physical plant in which the players would spend the most time, and it's the aspect most emphasized by other schools which have made upgrades to their facilities. It represents the best "bang for the buck" Notre Dame could realize. I still believe that to be true.
The locker rooms, as was mentioned at the press conference, received an upgrade six years ago. Having seen them, they're certainly of good quality and suitable. I'm less convinced on the players' lounge. Granted, it only needs to accomodate 15 players, but my standard of "whatever the football players have in the Gug" remains. If they can do that (scaled down, of course) in the existing space, fine.
But other areas of concern remain. I'd still like to see more practice court space. Three sports need the current arena and The Pit to get in their time, and would be well-served by two practice courts with proper flooring, lighting, baskets, etc.. They still need player meeting and/or study areas, and I would make sure the weightlifting and training offices available are the best possible.
ND has already set the standard with the Gug. All I want, to paraphase Sally Brown, is what the basketball players have coming to them.
Comments were made during the press conference that facilities are on the minds of the ND admins, which is a good thing. It also may be good to separate this effort into its own fundraising bucket. If ND can get started on the arena-related things while still considering (and raising money for) practice improvements, it shortens the time until we'll see improvement in at least some areas. Do what you can now, as long as you realize more remains for later.
Better scoreboard. My feelings here remain the same. ND basketball has gone many years with the four-corner scoreboards in the Joyce Center, but this is the 21st Century. Many other schools use higher-tech center-mounted scoreboards that can show the crowd a lot more than the time left and current score. Player point totals and foul totals are considered de rigueur these days, and it's nice to have something on which to show past highlights -- God knows this is a fanbase that needs education about its past.
Most schools that upgrade their stuff are installing such contraptions. Some very quality programs like North Carolina and Indiana have had them for a while. Having seen them in action in places like Milwaukee and the Allstate Arena, I don't believe they detract from the experience. The opportunity to show people like Tommy Hawkins, Austin Carr and Kelly Tripucka in action to this generation of fans is one that should be taken.
This comes with the obvious advertising caveat. There's a fine line between appropriate and hucksterism, and I don't want to see ND stampeding over it. "This free-throw attempt brought to you by Chik-Fil-A" is not going to work. Ever.
Floor Replacement. Kayo said it best yesterday:
When the old floor had to be replaced, ND didn't remove it and install a new one. It put the current floor on top of the old one. The ramps down the few inches to the original floor are taped down. It looks cheap.
Many great basketball arenas have portable floors, but they don't make it look cheap when they install it. It's neither hard nor expensive to do the job right. ND should remove the old floor and install the new floor in its place.
The same goes for press row and the area around the baskets. Press row is a series of decrepit folding tables with a kluge of wires and extension chords underneath for reporters' computers. Run some conduit under the floor and pull enough power and network capacity for reporters to work without it looking like a project I did this morning in time for a noon game.
The shot clocks on the basket have the same issue. Wires run from traffic areas to the baskets. The wires are taped down to prevent passers-by from tripping on them. It looks cheap. It is cheap.
Granted, this is part of the overall decrepit look of the arena, but it is an important change. Nothing says "cheesy" like exposed wiring. It looks like ND didn't expect to have to deal with the playing, covering of, and broadcast of a Division 1 basketball game, so they had the A.V. club toss something together. Pros don't do these things.
The floor and wiring should look professionally installed, with infrastructure accounted for out of public sight. The press should have dedicated areas both courtside (including better stat displays) and under the bleachers for filing stories. There's nothing more irritating than trying to write a game article with the din (and fumes) of gas leaf blowers in the background as the cleanup crew cleans the arena. A decent-sized room with both phone and Internet capability would be a boon to Irish scribes.
Seat Replacement. Thank goodness, this seems to be a priority for the project. The observation areas will be all seatbacks of a uniform dark color, preferably ND's hue of Navy blue. Again, I don't care what Digger thinks, neon purple is not a school color.
Yes, I realize we're going to lose about 1,600 seats, and I also realize some folks are upset about that. My opinion: It won't make a difference in the grand scheme. Counting SRO capability, we'll still be over 10k people at every game. The elimination of the bleachers will give the arena a much cleaner and professional look, and the sealing out of the upper concourse will help keep the sound in. In the short and long run, it'll do more for ND basketball than the 1,600 potential bodies would.
Some seating could be reclaimed with a "ring of students" courtside. I'm not going to address that here, but if there's a way to do it that doesn't break the bank, it should be considered. At the very least, create a small "pit" three quarters of the way around the court that would allow the students to stand. The raised-court look works well at places like Vanderbilt and Purdue.
Reallocation of Seats. This is the concept behind the "Stadium Club" part of the announcement yesterday. While I would prioritize the things above first, getting the often-no-show loge seat holders out of an area to which strong program supporters should have access is a good thing. As I said in May, I don't care if a luxury box that isn't on TV stands empty, but I do care if half-court seats remain unfilled with rabid Irish partisans.
Concession/bathroom Improvements. The concession setup is pretty good as it is, and it's not like there are a ton of lines. But I would like ND to be capable of offering more variety in the concession stands, and also give them better capability for making the food on site. For bathrooms ... well, if ND is capable of putting the World's Best Public Bathroom in the Admin Building, they should be able to give the JC partisans something.
Basketball "Hall of Fame" area. ND basketball needs to reclaim its history, and the best solution is to put that history front and center where everyone can get a good whiff of it. Pictures, trophies, the works -- all should have a place in the new JC. The NCAA banners are a good thing, but I'm thinking more along the lines of a "ring of fame", both for the men and the women, to remind the fans of the players who helped shape ND basketball tradition. Outright retirement of jersey numbers might not be feasible because of numbering requirements, but this would be a good alternative. At least put the names in the rafters, if not the numbers.
Labels: hoops facilities