In dark times, we can always count on Geno Auriemma to provide some light. This time that light came in the form of a fire lit under the behinds of the administrators and lawmakers involved in the decision-making process around UConn’s dreary basketball arenas.
As the keynote speaker at a gathering of over 2,000 real estate professionals, Auriemma held back no punches as he spoke to the state of the facilities for the country’s premier basketball program.
From the Hartford Courant report:
"So you been up to Gampel Pavilion lately?" Auriemma said. "The roof is falling apart, the roof is leaking. It's just like becoming the original [UConn] field house that I coached in.
And guess what? Everybody thought, 'It's OK.' Oh really? The number one team in America is playing in a place that leaks, and the roof is falling apart."
He did not spare the XL Center from his wrath either:
"The worst. No one else is even second," Auriemma said. "But it's OK. We're going to win anyway. Until when? When we don't. Until we don't, then what? Then, it's too late.”
The XL Center received a minor facelift in 2014 but everyone knew it was a band-aid which did not solve any of its long-term issues. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy proposed $250 million in upgrades but given the state’s finances that proposal had a very small chance of passing.
While one of Malloy’s motivations may be his desire to woo an NHL franchise, some of the XL Center’s primary tenants, UConn’s two stellar basketball teams, the pride and joy of the state of Connecticut, along with the burgeoning hockey program, deserve a better place to play on par with their peers.
Moreover, Hartford will be hosting games in the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It would be nice for Connecticut’s capital to be looking its best when that moment on the national stage comes. To whit, a state legislative committee has approved $75 million in upgrades over the next two years.
These upgrades have been met with heavy political and public opposition, and understandably so given the state’s budget situation. The Capital Region Development Authority is now looking into various partnerships to gain private funding to help alleviate costs for the renovations needed going forward.
UConn’s on-campus digs are unfortunately not in much better shape. An embarrassingly shoddy roof was allocated $10 million for repairs in 2015 but was delayed a year and is finally under way right now.
Still, greater upgrades are needed and the long-term viability of the arena is under question against the possibility of a brand new one.
“It would cost well over $60 million to (replace the arena) now,” UConn’s chief architect Laura Cruickshank said. “And if you did it now, you would probably make it more of a multipurpose facility than it was originally designed for.”
While the state legislature is one body who can help out with Gampel, another political entity could help UConn out with upgrading its facilities: the powers-that-be within the NCAA’s “power five” cartel. An invite to the ACC or Big Ten would really help UConn make the necessary upgrades but there are no indications that’s happening anytime soon.
Once again, Auriemma incisively got to the point of why this is so important for UConn Athletics moving forward.
"I can say with all honesty and a clear conscience that if we had stayed in the Field House there is no way any of this would have happened... I don't know how much longer we could have continued to get kids to come to school here when the facilities we had to offer were worse than the ones they had at their high schools.
"When the building opened, it was one of the best on-campus facilities in the country.”
The state of UConn’s athletic facilities will continue to be of critical importance, particularly as the NCAA arms race heats up thanks to the ballooning television revenues of the SEC, Big Ten, et al.
Susan Herbst, David Benedict, and their respective staffs have their work cut out to keep UConn competitive moving forward.