Friday, March 02, 2007

If You Build It....

I was at SportClips last night with my son, and while he was getting his haircut, I took a few moments to admire both the huge-screen television they had in their waiting room and the men's basketball game playing on it.

Virginia and Dave Leitao, to whom I gave much consideration for Coach of the Year on my USBWA ballot before voting for Kevin Stallings, took down Virginia Tech and Seth Greenberg (another coach doing an outstanding job) in their new John Paul Jones Arena. During the half hour or so of game coverage I watched, the WWL took a few seconds to pan through the new practice courts connected to the arena, one and a half of which, according to the UVirginia site, is available for each basketball team at all times.

I know this is usually where the article turns into a rant, but relax: that won't be the case this time.

For about five minutes, I decided to check out the arena rather than the game. Virginia had been mentioned on the list of quality physical plants on The Pit, so I wanted to check it out more fully to see if it was a good template for Notre Dame. Could or should Notre Dame build its own JPJA?

At the end of that five minutes, I concluded: No, they should not. And here's why.

As I've pontificated on numerous occasions, Notre Dame basketball has a rich tradition on ND's campus, and, current waffling notwithstanding, can and should enjoy strong fan support. But the JPJA seats almost 16,000, which I don't believe is a good option for ND. That would be a good 4,000 seats over the high end I think ND could consistently fill, assuming all other program support is maxed out as it should be. Crowd size for alternate acts that would appear there does not enter in to my calculus, because the fact it would be sold out for a U2 concert or whatever doesn't help ND's home court advantage.

I've checked every campus map I can, and I'm still unsure where a new building could be put that would keep it within the "athletic footprint" currently on campus. I don't want basketball/volleyball student-athletes walking all the way out to Angela and 933, and that land isn't an option anyway. Ditto Stepan Center. And wherever you build the thing, you'll have to provide plenty of parking, and you wouldn't be able to utilize the Joyce Lot to their fullest extent. Lots of fans walking a long way is not the preferred method to drum up program support.

Yes, I still believe there's economies of scale for a new arena versus a refurbishment. However, I'm coming around to the redo idea, provided they include the practice facilities so sorely needed for the student-athletes. It stems from what about the renovations is important and not important to improving the fan experience.

That Which Is Not Important:

The facade. I really hope ND doesn't spend a lot of money changing the exterior of the Joyce Center. It's not like the building is an eyesore for the grounds or anything like that. The brick is in good shape, and the design is not philosophically offensive. As long as the interior changes don't require modification to the outside, it should stay the way it is.

The capacity. I realize much has been made of the 1,600 or so seats that will be lost converting the bleachers to chairbacks. I don't think it'll be a problem, however. For the basketball games, it makes for a tougher ticket, which makes for a more involved fan who had to work a little harder to get to the game. For non-hoops games (which, as I said, isn't on my concern list for this), it may not be tough either. ND just announced their graduate and doctoral graduation will now be separate from the undergrad, eliminating 500 or so graduates and 1,000 spectators from the Commencement ceremony.

The seating arrangements. No need to rehash this again. ND needs the biggest bang for its buck, and the important stuff should be fully funded out before any money is spent on moving constituents around.

That Which Is Important (after practice/lounge space, of course):

The entranceways. The double-door setup creates confusion and long lines. It would be nice if there were more waiting space out of the elements for fans attending games. The placement of the ticket windows between the doors is a poor choice as well, as lines to purchase tickets have to mingle with lines to enter the arena.

The interior aesthetics. While seats are seats and a floor is a floor, it's important those seats and that floor look professional. The garish color scheme and poor condition of the seats don't accomplish that. Nor does the raised aspect of the floor and the oft-mentioned duct tape holding it down. All the seats should be replaced with a standard Navy blue, and the floor should be dug up and installed correctly, with all wiring and whatnot professionally "hidden" instead of snaking around the sidelines.

The bathrooms, concourses and concessions. More stalls and a better sink-to-stall ratio are the way to go here. The redone bathrooms in ND Stadium can provide a good template (minus the stadium-wide flooding on the first day, naturally). Wider halls can better accommodate fans, as can better mobility between levels (i.e. ramps, escalators). Instead of carting food from across the street, the concessions in the Joyce Center should be better organized and capable of producing their own product. A broader range of choices makes for a better fan experience, which makes for more fans wanting to enjoy that experience.

The loge location. Thank goodness it doesn't show up on TV because it's below the camera views, but the consistent poor attendance in the gold loge section must be addressed. While people may not be thrilled spending money to set up a "luxury box" section, if it puts the empty seats in an area no one will see or care about while putting fans in that lower arena space, it's money well spent filling a gap. If it means the resulting space can be raised to accomodate some sideline student seating, so much the better.

Links to the past. People may hate the idea of a video board, but if it can show AC highlights or big games like USF to remind the fans of the rich history ND basketball enjoys, I'll deal with the occasional ad. I'm not a big fan of the video-ring-around-the-arena you see in most places these days, and thank goodness ND's structure seems to preclude such a possibility. But what I would like to see is a Ring of Fame or some such device to celebrate the players who helped make ND basketball what it is today. You have a ready-made seeding group in the All-Century team. Bring those guys back, put their names in the rafters, show their accomplishments on the big screen, and remind the students and fans what ND basketball means.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Handicap accessibility needs to be improved. I believe the only elavator up on the basketball side is at gate 8.

3/02/2007 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

El Kabong, you have failed to mention one important problem that needs to be address concerning the JACC. PARKING! It takes me forty minutes to get from my home to the JACC front door. Twenty minutes to get to ND and the other twenty minutes sitting in traffic on Edison Road waiting to get into the parking lots. The same can be said after the game. You might as well stay and enjoy the Mike Brey post game show because your going to sit 20-30 minutes in the parking lot after the game.

3/03/2007 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still think ND should take a look at Georgia Tech's arena. They revamped it a few years back and did an incredible job. The old Ga Tech arena reminded me of ND's present arena.

3/03/2007 11:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the opportunity to comment. ND was 22-3 at home against the very best competition when I was a junior and senior (long ago). The "ACC" rocked - and, if my memory serves me correctly, it had a (much) higher proportion of students at the game (than currently). That's WHY it rocked. I think ND should think big - and envision 5,000 screaming students at its home games. They will create the Top 20 atmosphere that has been missing. That atmosphere will help recruiting
...and the whole process will build on itself (atmosphere, players, students, noise, excitement, wins...). With all due respect, I strongly believe that reducing seating capacity and limiting student attendance is not the way to go.

3/06/2007 01:48:00 PM  

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