Tonight, UConn will host No. 8 West Virginia in a game that is vital for the Huskies as they struggle to play themselves back into the tournament. Yet, according to some UConn fans, UConn will not be home for this game at all, because it will be playing in the most hated building in Connecticut: the XL Center. They mockingly refer to it as "The Morgue" and characterize it as a soulless embarrassment of a building that above all else is quiet. A lot of that reputation is deserved, but I have to ask: Aren't we all being just a little bit too harsh on the place?
Well, no. Gampel Pavilion is a far superior arena to the XL Center. If I was the king of basketball for a day, my first act would be to move all UConn home games to the most storied arena in Storrs.
Still, I cannot help but feel that the Huskies home away from home gets hit a little too hard some of the time, and since UConn is apparently going to be playing there until the end of time, hit the jump for some specific thoughts and my very meager defense of the XL.
I will not try to defend most the Hartford experience, mainly because so much of it is indefensible. But I do think that the arena itself is not all bad, rather, I think the place it is just poorly utilized.
One of the first complaints you will hear is about the stadium's not-exactly-glorious Hartford location. This is dead on. Simply put, it is horrible. Parking is pretty easy, but that is because the most obvious landmark in the area is an abandoned building that the city has needed to tear down for years. If you're going to make me drive out to the city, you need to make sure some of the perks of a city, things like nice restaurants and bars, are nearby and worth visiting. In Hartford, at least by XL, they're not. Yes, as far as amenities go, Storrs is not much better, but Gampel is on campus, which counts for a lot. No one has ever spent a week in a tent outside of the XL center waiting in line for a game.
If the location complaint is not someone's first complaint, the notion that XL is a "quieter" arena than Gampel is. I usually dislike arguments based on nebulous concepts like atmosphere, but the difference between a game at XL and Gampel is night and day -- Gampel will have more students, it will be rowdier and each game just seems to have a little more pop. However, in fairness to the XL center, a lot of this is on the fans. If people in Hartford feel like getting loud, they can, just look at last year's matchup against Pittsburgh. If 15,000 people want to get loud, they can make the place shake and hopefully they will tonight against West Virginia. The problem is just that they often don't.
However, location and sound are not the biggest problems with the XL center, scheduling is. Obviously, the XL center is a fine place to play games over winter break while students are away, but once school is back in session, the athletic department needs to do a better job of making sure games against good teams (like tonight) are played in Gampel. I would have no problem playing the DePauls and the St. John's of the world in Hartford every year. I really do not mind playing teams like Marquette there either (in a year when UConn was expected to be much better than they wound up being, I think a schedule maker can be forgiven for thinking that game should be an easy UConn victory.) The problem comes when UConn is forced to travel to Hartford to take on a ranked team in a big game. These are the times UConn needs to be on campus, with every advantage that provides.
I looked back at UConn's home games against top-25 teams in the last decade. The results speak for themselves:
Gampel 10 Hartford 16
Record in those games:
Gampel 9-1 Hartford 10-6
I doubt it is a surprise that UConn is more successful at Gampel, so why in the world is the school scheduling so many more games in Hartford? It makes no sense.
I have had some fun times at the HCC/XLC, and maybe in my own perverse way I have a soft spot for it in my heart, but if UConn is going to be playing half of its games there each year, the school needs to be smarter about how they are scheduled.