Jensen: Villanova Seeks To Upgrade Its Basketball Arena

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Jensen: Villanova seeks to upgrade its basketball arena

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Mike Jensen


Mike Jensen is a general assignment reporter for the Inquirer and Daily News. Among other assignments, he writes "Off Campus," a regular column on college sports for the Inquirer. A staff writer with the Inquirer since 1988, Jensen covered college basketball and football beats for 15 years, wrote about soccer from 10 countries on five continents, and was assigned to the Kentucky Derby the year of Smarty Jones. He won Eclipse Awards for his coverage of Smarty Jones and Barbaro.

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Here's the highest architectural praise you can give the Pavilion: It's not the worst Division I arena in or around Philly. (Congratulations, Tom Gola Arena.)

The Pavilion is, however, the least fan-friendly arena to house a defending NCAA men's basketball national champion in a long time - since 1985.

Nobody is more aware of this than the folks at Villanova, including students, alumni and school hierarchy. Villanova is preparing to do something about it, in the midst of raising money to change the place without apparently changing the outside footprint.

Villanova coach Jay Wright told the Associated Press this week that to do it, his Wildcats will spend a season of home games away from the Pavilion, possibly as  soon as 2017-18. A Villanova source said the priority for games away from the building would be to "maximize" the Wells Fargo Center, then come up with "creative solutions" beyond that, which presumably would include but not necessarily be restricted to the Palestra. (No talks yet on that front. This all remains preliminary.)

"It's got to be an all-basketball arena," Wright said about the end product on his campus.

Will it get more people into the 6,500-seat building? That's what younger alumni who don't have access to a full season ticket plan yearn for, but they shouldn't expect much of a change in seating capacity. There apparently isn't room to expand given zoning restrictions.

If that's the case, the success or failure of the reconfigured building will depend on a better viewing experience for fans and a bigger homecourt advantage for Villanova.

If the new plans don't accomplish this, what's the point of getting away for a year?

Again, it isn't news to Villanova folks that the seats shoot away from the court at unfriendly angles. They can't raise the roof and I don't know if they can dig into the ground, so improving sightlines is an architectural challenge. But it is on everyone's priority list.

Villanova also is talking about offering fans an experience that immerses them in Villanova's basketball history from the moment they step in the door. A good idea. It works at the Palestra. You win two national titles and go to two more Final Fours in 45 years, you celebrate it. The history needs to be built into the fabric of the place.

That's also down the list of reasons fans show up. They already know the history. They want to see the game. Taking care of business closer to the court has to be the highest priority. Make the students as much a part of the experience as you can, bringing them as close as possible to the action. Offer comfort but don't overdo it. Cameron Indoor and Allen Fieldhouse aren't revered as hoops cathedrals because of comfort. Make the new place one where fans can come in and get loud, even work up a sweat, reversing the stodgy image of the Pavilion. It won't be Cameron or Allen but it should aspire to be as good as they've got at a place like Pitt.

Look at this from another angle: Given how they've supported the team in recent years, including thousands making it to Houston for the Final Four, Villanova fans deserve better than what they've got right now and this could be the only chance the school gets in the next half-century to provide it.

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