Thursday, March 29, 2007

Be Like the Russians

Every now and then, posts morph into blog entries. This is one of those.

We were talking on the Pit about programs and whether or not ND can become a quality one again. I, for one, think it's very possible to ND to re-establish itself as a consistent, quality program. They just need to be like the Russians and not do anything without a plan -- a plan that can make use of what they do well and minimize that which hurts them.

ND's primary advantage as a sports-participating institution has always been its dedication to the academic, intellectual and maturity development of its student athletes. Back in its hoops heyday, such an advantage was important to blue-chip players, as salaries weren't the lottery windfall they are today. At the very least, they would have to spend at least two to three years at the college level, and they would, most likely, have to use that education down the road.

Unfortunately, that natural advantage isn't as important to blue-chip hoopsters today as it was back then. Quality players, both black and white, are looking for the quickest path to the NBA and its riches, deciding (perhaps rightly) the college degree will always be there when their playing careers are over and they have the financial wherewithal from that career to fund it themselves should they be so inclined.

Throw in the lack of overall success -- ND has been to the NCAA tournament four times in the lifetimes of current high school juniors, and has had some pretty damn bad years in that span, although that period is aging out soon -- the lack of attention to physical plant, and the reputation ND has as being firm on discipline both in and out of the classroom, and Notre Dame seems to be behind the eight-ball.

Does that mean they can't have a consistent, quality program? Of course not. They just need to do it in a different way, turning disadvantages into advantages.

I think the Ben Howland model is very useful in these discussions. Howland came on board at Pitt in 1999-2000, and decided to build the program from the bottom up. He brought in players who weren't the top-flight blue-chippers, but were good, quality players who would give him four (or, in some cases, five) years and be excellent players by the time they matured.

His first season, Pitt were 13-15. They improved to 19-14 the next year, then exploded to 29-6 the year after and have stayed consistently good, as Jamie Dixon has continued to operate in that model. The frosh watch while the upperclassmen -- with established playing pedigrees and known to opposing coaches (and officials) as being worthy of respect -- contribute.

He's now doing the same thing at UCLA. His first year, they were 11-17 (and got destroyed by ND at home). Then they were 18-11, and we know where they've gone from there.

When Mike Brey first arrived at ND, he tried to do the Duke thing and recruit the high-performance blue-chippers, and he was successful. However, it blew up in their faces in the post-S16 recruiting effort when they lost the blue-chippers to Duke. I also don't think his personality lends itself to working well with players like that -- right or wrong, he puts a lot of the onus on his players to show leadership and maturity. That lends itself a lot more to the Howland model, which is why, three years ago, they retrenched their recruiting plan. So far, it's worked out pretty well.

Going into next season, there's a lot of proven quality in the junior (KMac, Hillesland) and sophomore (Jackson, Harangody) classes, and projected quality in the frosh (Nash, Scott), along with developing talent in all three groups (Ayers, Zeller, Peoples, Harden, Abromaitis, Proffitt). And all those guys should be around at least next season and the one beyond to get even better and contribute even more.

There are other ways they can turn the frowns upside down. Yes, there was an initial overreaction by ND to the KMac situation, and I talked about it at length. But the end result showed intelligence and compassion on both sides, and gives Mike Brey some ammunition sitting in a kid's living room talking to parents: When ND says we're going to take care of your son and make a man out of him, we're not just running our mouths. We sacrificed what could have been a really special season because rules and discipline come first. Whether he ends up in the league or not, you're going to want your son to be part of that.

It's not a foolproof plan ... no plan is. But it's a good, well-thought-out one. Coupled with the physical plant improvements, it makes for a good foundation -- the kind of foundation programs are built on.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's Next?

This time of year becomes a guilty pleasure for me. The headlines don't take nearly as long to do. Once the pool is over, the upload level drops a lot. I get to shake the dust off the site code and toss in some updates folks have been asking for. It's a time to step back and take stock.

So it is also for the men's basketball team. Last year at this time, the talk was all about assistant coach movement and Big Man Camp. What's it going to be this year? Probably the same.

Stuff that will probably come in the next two months:

Recruiting. Probably won't be as under-the-radar as last year. The name Kenny Frease has already been bandied about, and it's no mystery the Irish could use a five-star true center. Having only one scholarship to work with will be difficult, but things like this have a way of working themselves out.

Returnees. The main question is whether or not Luke Harangody will get to a Big Man Camp this offseason or wait another year. The experience certainly seems to have helped Rob Kurz, who, as an undersized guy trying to maneuver in the post in Big East play, had to learn some of the same things on Harangody's list. The sooner LH can get there, the better.

Coaches. Good seasons tend to result in job offers for upwardly-mobile assistant coaches. Gene Cross' name was in the hopper for Northern Illinois, and I expect his name may come up for some other vacancies. The Coaches Convention during Final Four weekend tends to be one great big job fair, so with all the moving around so far this season on the job front, we might see some new blood on the roster next year.

Physical Plant. "After the 2008 season" tends to be a popular response when asking when the Joyce Center renovations are going to start. Since that's next season, I expect we're going to start hearing about the plan specifics as soon as the dust settles this off-season. Sometimes these announcements coincide with Trustee meetings, but since the project has already been green-lighted, I'm not sure if they'd wait on the 2nd Quarter meeting to release info.


Monday, March 26, 2007

One More Year!

A variation on an election year theme, that's become a rallying cry of sorts on the Pit since the postseason began, although it quieted a little in the post-Winthrop wake. And it's a cry I hate with a passion, because a sliding scale like that isn't worth spit.

What is the point of a coach "earning one more year"? A guy is either your coach or he isn't. To create a never-ending "I'm from Missouri" tap dance, with the watchers kicking the can down the lane waiting to see which side of the fence the guy falls on so they can say they "saw it coming all along" is an unparalleled waste of time and mental energy.

There doesn't seem to be any logic to the position. If the coach did things during a season that leads you to believe things are going well, why would you want to hold on to him for only one more year? Wouldn't you want to lock him up to make sure you don't lose him? At the very least, he's learning and getting better on your dime, and you're going to want a return on your investment.

On the other hand, if he didn't do enough during a season to lead you to believe things are going well, why would you want to postpone the inevitable? What does waiting a year do for you other than delay program movement back to where you want? Besides, recruits aren't dumb: they know a dead man walking when they see it.

A lot of people like John 3:16, but my favorite 3:16 has always been Revelations: "Therefore because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit thee out of My mouth." Those Laodiceans were cruisin' for an ass kicking. So are we. Make your choice, people -- he's either your guy or he's not. To quote George Carlin, pick a hole and stick with it.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Show 'Em How It's Done

This seems to be the Year of the Demotion for Division I coaches ... lots of guys jumping to a lower-tier job before the (inevitable?) push. One-time wunderkind Steve Alford beat feet for New Mexico. Joe Scott bailed out of Princeton to UDenver. And in the highest profile cannonball, Tubby Smith left the Bluegrass of Kentucky for the blue fingers and toes of Minne-soda, eh?

It's doubtful any of these moves will affect ND directly, unless the unleashed dominoes result in an assistant coach moving up in the world. But I found the whole Tubby situation to be very interesting, and possibly educational to the folks in South Bend. While Minnesota is hardly ND when it comes to exposure and leverage, MN athletic director (and 1967 ND grad) Joel Maturi acted in an incredibly decisive and efficient manner in getting rid of an underperforming coach and going after the highest profile candidate he could. As a result, he landed perhaps a bigger fish than his constituents could have expected and showed himself to be a quality candidate for a similar position at ND.

Maturi's been a busy man this year, replacing both his football coach and men's basketball coaches. But both replacements were handled with exquisite precision. When Glen Mason's team lost its bowl game in a terrible performance, showing a distinct lack of preparedness, the already-embattled coach was given his walking papers immediately, even though the team had won three of its last four games to get to that bowl game, and Maturi had a replacement within two weeks. When Dan Monson's squad started out 2-5, Maturi said the program was "not in the position we want it to be in" and asked for (and got) Monson's resignation, leaving him free to conduct an exhaustive (and quiet) search that yielded Smith.

That someone with a Notre Dame pedigree could take such forceful action makes me wonder why the people who are actually on campus can't do the same in some cases. Think about the last two coaching searches under the Dome, with the charlie foxtrots of Urban Meyer and Pat Casey. Where would ND be in football had Kevin White, in the aftermath of the horrific performance of Bob Davie's squad in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl, done what his gut should have told him needed to be done and fired Davie outright and immediately? At the very least, would the University's public image have taken the beating it did so many times in the last three years? I think not. And it's frustrating to still be waiting on renovations to the Joyce Center while watching Maturi put together a plan for a $288 million football stadium for a school that hasn't been competitive in football in my lifetime.

There's a Notre Dame alumnus showing us how the job should be done 500 miles west of where he should be doing it. Maybe that should be ND's next search.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sing it, Paul

Paul Simon told us "One man's ceiling is another man's floor". We're seeing a lot of that on The Pit these days.

What is Notre Dame men's basketball? What should it be? What can it be? Can it be that for a long time? What has to be to make "can be" into "is"?

All excellent questions whose answers depend on a lot of things. A couple of thoughts on the matter in no particular order of importance:

As I've said many times, I think comparisons to the "Golden Age" of ND basketball in the 1970's are odious. There are too many differences between the college basketball of that era and the college basketball we see now to make any kind of apples to apples analysis. I cringe when I read posts that compare Mike Brey's winning percentage to Digger Phelps' just as hard as when I read posts that compare Digger's recruiting prowess as compared to Brey's. Digger had to run his program in a completely different manner than Brey has to run his.

There are some factors ND cannot control, or would have to sacrifice too much of what it is to control. Notre Dame is not going to relax accountability for student athletes, either on or off the court. Notre Dame is not going to create special curriculum for its student athletes to maintain an illusion of classroom performance. Basketball players looking for the quickest route to the NBA most likely are not going to find the atmosphere at ND attractive.

But there are some factors ND can control, and it is important they do the maximum they can in those areas. This is why I continually beat the facilities drum. ND will not sell any part of its soul to have a nice arena, nor will it compromise what it is to give student athletes good infrastructure to improve their game. Considering it's been over 40 years since the last attention was paid to ND's physical plant for hoops, and considering how many other sports have received nice-to-have upgrades in time, such an effort is past due (although underway).

ND can also control what it pays its coaches. Charlie Weis is among the best-paid college football coaches for a reason. ND needs to have that same mindset for all of its sports, including basketball, and also needs to remember each sport supports its own market. If that means the basketball coach's salary approaches or exceeds Weis', that's what it means, provided that's what the basketball market can bear.

So what's the ceiling and what's the floor? The ceiling is a constantly changing thing, and we'll see what ND's new efforts at infrastructure do for it. But I do believe I can see the floor, so here are my ideas, which may or may not match anyone else's:

  • ND should always finish in the top half of the Big East. As much as it pains me to use it as a cite, they should never receive anything lower than a #9 seed in the EWSNBN.

  • ND should participate in the postseason every year.

  • At least three out of every four of those years, that postseason should be the NCAA tournament.

  • Regardless of postseason tournament, ND should not lose to a seed more than three spots below it.

I believe all these things can and should be done on a consistent basis right now, regardless of anything else going on. Does that mean I think that's what ND will always achieve? No. If ND dedicates itself to a quality program, they can certainly achieve more as a minimum expectation. But I want to see them do that before I demand more.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Remember, It's Winthrop

Boy, did I have that one wrong. Never saw a game with that many horrific aspects coming.

It's season's end, and a looking-back-and-looking-forward-type article will be coming shortly. But reading Mark Schlabach's article about the game yesterday, some paragraphs jumped out at me:

The Eagles' trip to Spokane has been just as arduous as the sportswriters' drive from home. It was Winthrop's first win in seven tries in the NCAA Tournament, after two gut-wrenching defeats in each of the previous two seasons. In 2005, the Eagles led No. 3 seed Gonzaga for 36 minutes before losing 74-64. Last season, Winthrop was tied with No. 2 seed Tennessee in the final seconds, until Chris Lofton drilled a desperation shot at the buzzer to beat the Eagles 63-61.

"It's been a long time coming," Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall said. "It's been nine years. Nine years of pouring your heart and soul into something and being close in the past. Everything that we have done in the past 12 months, from the time that shot went in against Tennessee last year, we dedicated to this moment. That's a lot to invest in something."

Aside from wondering if that emphasis will mean they'll have anything left in the tank Sunday, I must confess I liked the focus. I liked the anger. I liked the single-minded dedication, although as I said, we'll see Sunday if that backfires.

From reading the ND stories post-game, it seems the Irish have that anger now. A lot of stoicism in the locker room, a whole lot of disappointment.


The underclassmen need to remember how this feels. They all need to remember how they played. KMac needs to remember how he could have helped had he been here. The season was good overall, but the NCAA game was like bombing a final when you have an A in the class. You end up with a much lower grade and memories of what should have been.

That anger needs to be harnessed, focused and utilized. It must be the crucible by which a team with emerging talent can get over the hump and back to where it should be after many years of being almost there.

So here's what I'd do if I were Mike Brey: Go online at my earliest convenience and purchase a Winthrop basketball jersey. I tried to do the work for him, but it doesn't seem like there's a place to buy them online. The closest I could come were some T-shirts and sweatshirts like the ones here. The good news is it seems Follett runs their bookstore as well as ND's, so obtaining something of this type will probably not prove difficult.

I'd get that jersey/sweatshirt/whatever, and I'd hang it in the middle of the locker room. Not the lounge where the media goes or anything like that --- the locker area where the players congregate. The players would understand that if anyone touches that jersey/sweatshirt/whatever, the entire team will run until they're hospitalized.

Then I'd leave it there for the entire season, hanging. I'd wheel it out on a rack during practices. I'd take it on roadtrips and hang it in whatever locker room ND used. In fact, for players who violate team rules or who are otherwise not focused, I'd make them wear it around campus for 24 hours.

Put it out there, right where they can see it and not get away from it. Put it out there, to remind them of what they could have done. Put it out there, as a motivator when things get tough.

ND has a lot to play for next season. They've got a 20-game home win streak that is five short of the Joyce Center record and 14 short of the ND home record overall. They've got a good conference performance to build on that will have to be maintained against what will undoubtedly be a tougher Big East slate next year. And now that they've returned to the NCAA's, they need to get there again and play better.

A little reminder of what happens when you don't meet those goals can only help.

No doubt ND will get a shot at revenge next season -- both the Fighting Irish and Winthrop are in the Paradise Jam in the Bahamas in the Fall, and the people who run it aren't stupid and know a buzz-generating rematch when they see it. But it won't be the same. Marshall will no doubt be gone to greener pastures -- probably his goal from the get-go, realizing he had an upperclassman-laden team that might get him a better opportunity than College of Charleston. Bradshaw and Martin, who led their team to the win and scored more than half of Winthrop's points, are seniors and will be playing elsewhere.

They'll never get this one back, and they need to remember that.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Amongst Our Weaponry

It's going to be a long week hearing about the Magic of Winthrop.

They're already the darling of the Bracketologists. They've played tough games, they say. They're an experienced team. Their coach is some sort of magician drawing attention from programs in need of quality leadership.

Should we even bother to play the game?

My personal belief: Winthrop is going to get stomped. While Charlie Weis probably won't be in the building (although it'd be cool if he were), I see the Irish as two-touchdown favorites on Friday because the Eagles have lost their primary weapon:


The problem with being called "This Year's George Mason" (assuming there even is a George Mason every year, which there isn't) is everyone's looking at you and waiting for you to actually be George Mason. There's no sneaking up on anyone. There's little danger your opponents aren't going to take you seriously. You're This Year's George Mason, for crying out loud! You're going to the Final Four! You're going to rise above your seed and make everybody take notice.

Trouble is, everyone's already taking notice. Colin Falls is taking notice. Russell Carter is taking notice. You can be damn sure Mike Brey is taking notice.

Think there's a chance in hell ND is going to underestimate Winthrop for a second? No way. And that screws the Eagles before the ball is even tossed up.

Let's look at all these "close losses" everyone's crowing about:

A seven-point win at UNC. This was, reportedly, a very close game throughout. It was also in the Preseason NIT, in which it can be difficult to grasp not only what your own team is doing but also what the opponent is going to do. But in any event, that game woke opponents up to the dangers of Winthrop, and five days later, Maryland beat the ever loving snot out of them.

A three-point overtime loss at Wisconsin. Certainly a close game, but also played more than three months ago. Let's also examine where that game fell in UW's schedule:

11/28 FSU (ACC Challenge) (W 81-66)
12/2 Florida Int'l (W 79-63)
12/4 Winthrop (W 82-79 OT)
12/9 at Marquette (W 70-66)

Let's see, you just had that Florida International powerhouse in town, and now you have Winthrop coming to Madison in December five days before you take your big trip to Milwaukee to take on Marquette. What are the chances the Badgers took the Eagles a little bit less than seriously? My thought: Pretty high.

And it's not like Wisconsin is an offensive juggernaut -- you could throw them in a cathouse wearing $100-bill underwear and scoring wouldn't be a guarantee. Most of their point totals this season were in the 60s. Compared to an ND team averaging over 80 points per game (over 75 in conference), Wisconsin isn't a very good benchmark.

I'm sure Winthrop is a decent squad capable of beating quality teams. But when they haven't faced anyone with an RPI less than 190 in two months, I have a hard time finding clear and convincing evidence. Meanwhile, outside of Rutgers, ND hasn't played anyone with an RPI over that level in that time, with all but USF, SJU, Rutgers and Cincinnati in the top 100.

But wait, I hear the Winthropians say, ND lost to two of those teams, and away from home! Why can't we pull it off?

Setting aside the timing of the KMac announcement, ND lost at SJU and USF because (all together now) they didn't take their opponent seriously. They'd pounded USF at their place by 24, and SJU wasn't expected to do anything. And while that lack of respect is a problem, you'll notice they had no problems respecting Cincinnati and Rutgers later in the year. Lesson learned? I think so.

Let the pundits prognosticate ... I'm going to spend my time worrying about Oregon.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Solid Six?

As much as I'd like to do an analysis of the job the Selection Committee did, the futility of their work exceeds the scope of this blog. So I'll limit myself to their treatment of the Fighting Irish.

Is ND a "solid six"? Yes and no.

If you're looking at the outcome of the season in a vacuum, six is probably where they deserved to be. A quality finish to the season, no doubt about it. But there's still the matter of the head-scratching losses away from home to SJU, USF (who just fired their coach) and DePaul, none of whom made the tournament and two of whom didn't even make the NIT. Throw in possible complaints about the excess cupcake-edness of the out of conference slate, and it shouldn't be a surprise ND ended up where they did.

Then again, one must look at the other teams seeded at or immediately above ND's level.

The other sixes: Vanderbilt, Louisville, Duke
The fives: Butler, VaTech, Tennessee, USC

Assuming as we must ND was the lowest six on the board (since they got the toughest 11), this means all seven of these teams were considered of higher tourney quality than Notre Dame. Butler, given their head-to-head win against ND, is defensible to an extent. But ND spanked Louisville more recently. Duke has been playing "how not to win" for more than half a season now. SC just got demolished in its home town in the conference tournament and somehow managed to lose to Arizona State. And Vanderbilt, while they have the FL win to their credit, have some head-scratchers against Furman and Auburn, not to mention a two-game sweep by Arkansas to end their season. I try to be an open-minded guy, but you can't convince me any of those seven teams are more deserving of their tournament bids than Notre Dame.

One must also look at location. With proximate first-round locations like Chicago, Columbus, Lexington, and Buffalo, ND had at least a 50-50 chance of a short trip to their tournament opener. Instead, the committee sent them the longest possible distance to that Mecca of human culture, Spokane, WA. Even the trains try to sneak through there at night so as not to be noticed. My manta in pool picking is to always bet against the team that has to travel through the most time zones, which does not bode well for Mike Brey and his squad.

Now the coaches and players have a decision to make: What will the story be? Hoops history is filled with tales of teams that felt they got screwed in their post-season assignments, and more often than not, those teams end up getting their doors blown off by someone who shouldn't be blowing anything. Granted, it happens more in the NIT than the NCAA ... which is why I wouldn't spend any money betting on the Syracuse Orange to go too far, although they certainly got the lubeless treatment this year ... but it's still a danger if the team is thinking more about what could/should have been rather than what is.

Yes, once again, they were subtly screwed (quelle suprise). But the more time they spend thinking about it, the better the chance Winthrop will sneak in and make hay on ND's sunshine. So it's time to forget about it and get the job done, which is why this is the last mention of the subject you'll hear from me either here or on the Pit until the tourney is done.

Onward and upward.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

A Thousand Words

A poster on NDN shared a slide show the participants at JPW saw a few weekends ago concerning the "campus plan" and everything in the short and long term that will be built or improved on campus.

One of the pictures in that show, graciously extracted by FontOKnow, shows the new Joyce Center interior. I'd put a copy of it here, but it's too big to effectively show.

Lots and lots to like:

Enclosed arena. Part of the problem with the noise level in the JC is the open upper concourse, which allows sound to escape into the rest of the building where it does no one any good. Enclosing the arena will help to keep the sound where it belongs and helps.

Permanent seating of a uniform, dark color. Looks much cleaner (and better) both in person and on television, not to mention making a better fan experience.

Unobtrusive video scoreboard. Keeping them at the edges of the arena allows everyone to see them while not affecting television coverage or views of the overall arena from all seats. I also like they're keeping the traditional "over the exits" boards.

Loge seating that doesn't disrupt sightlines. Instead of being at half court where everyone can see if they don't show up, the box seating is now in the first part of the upper level where no one but them will know if they're there.

Down-to-sidelines seating. The free space around the court is effectively filled, with the press under the basket and seats on the sidelines coming all the way down to the playing area. This will make the arena look a lot more intimate (and, hopefully, intimidating).

Edit #2: A clean, standardized floor. The floor in this rendition looks very clean and uniform. One hopes a part of the plan is to get rid of the Foxworthy-esque "working floor on top of the non-working floor" setup and install the quality floor as it should have been from the get-go.

One thing I can't quite tell from the picture is seating level. It looks, to my untrained eye, like the concrete barriers behind the current floor-level seating have been closed (if not pushed back a couple of rows) and the seats behind them raised slightly. If that's the case, it could mean availability for student seating courtside, but we'll have to see.

Edit: What I find interesting is the placement of the loge section. Previous pictures had the raised seating section, but also had glass "skyboxes" under them. This picture doesn't show them, but rather shows concrete. If those seats are really raised that high, you could easily put the student section along the sidelines all the way up to the upper concourse. Again, we'll have to see.


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.