It seems like every year we make this case: Build Alabama a basketball facility that is worthy of one of the wealthiest college athletics programs in the nation. This year, incidentally, I make the plea less than two weeks removed from the University of Alabama collecting $4.2 million after playing for a national title, on top of the base distribution from the SEC that begins at $66 million to share among its members...and that’s just the Playoff revenue.
And a discussion of the money is important, because this issue boils down to two things, and two things only: 1. Money, and 2. The administrative will to raise it and spend it equitably.
You know the arguments as well as I do by now, but some of them bear repeating.
- Coleman Coliseum was built in 1968, more as a regional civic complex than strictly a basketball facility. This 52-year old structure has since been home to concerts, lectures, graduations, rallies, and yes, basketball games. But its age shows, not only in the hangar-like unforgiving architecture, but its capacity. Coleman seats 15,383 people. That is not a sustainable number for attendance. Nearly every school that has built new facilities in the last decade has built for smaller capacity.
- That smaller capacity is important, because a few thousand empty seats may not be much of an issue in a megalithic place like Lucas Field or Rupp Arena, but the squeaking of sneakers is very noticeable when 11,000 or so are in attendance for a curb-stomping of Vanderbilt. And in women’s hoops, it’s simply laughable to see the attendance-to-space available at Coleman.
- A smaller venue provides a more intimate, intimidating environment. And a newer one — instead of just slapping another coat of paint on a half-century old arena — provides modern ventilation and climate control. It is more accessible. It allows Alabama to have new locker rooms and world-class weight training. It improves the ghastly sight lines that Coleman “offers” patrons. It amps up the volume significantly.
- A fresh start allows Alabama to finally prioritize students in dedicated premium seating, preferably on top of the visiting bench and/or behind the goals. They make the game loud and energetic. And, indeed, students are not only the ones on the court, but they are the raison d’être for the university’s existence, for the sport we are watching, for the explosive geographic and financial growth of Tuscaloosa the last decade, and for the continued employment of so many in Tuscaloosa — including coaches and administrators. Students are not just walking wallets to which a vacuum is attached and UA siphons what they will, with scant afterthought given to their convenience; they are our future peers, future alumni, and — relevantly — your future donors. When viewing our 38,103 students as an investment into the future financial health of the Athletics Department and our community, it is just good damned sense and good salemanship. Professionals cultivate future contacts for sales and donations every day — and there 38,103 at your disposal, provided we place value on their attendance. Students don’t suddenly start mattering the day after they graduate and get hit up by the Alumni Association. They matter now. And in a sport where home court is often decisive, they directly impact producing a consistent winner.
Over the last half-decade, I’ve probably typed 10,000 words on this subject. I won’t rehash them in toto. You know as well as I that Basketball has never been a priority at Alabama partially because the University has never made it one. Aging facilities, antiquated concessions, a gloomy unfriendly home court, lack of promotion, students-as-accessories, and so many other reasons have factored into this.
But now, not only do the equities finally tip in favor a massive rebuild, but the long-term health of the program may depend on it. The first thing that happened when Avery Johnson arrived on campus was that he was sold a bill of goods regarding Coleman Coliseum — one that was never fulfilled. Anthony Grant butted heads with administration over the very thing as well. And, when Nate Oats was brought to Tuscaloosa, he was also given assurances about the fate of this arena. It would behoove us to keep our promises sooner rather than later — and perhaps even dramatically rethink plans for the facility.
Coach Oats came to campus and said that he absolutely saw no reason that Alabama could not be just a winner, but a national power. In less than two short years, he has taken a Franken-roster of Jucos, Johnson holdovers, freshmen, and transferees and turned them into the hottest team in America. His is also the hottest name in coaching, with many traditional down-on-their-luck basketball powers already eyeballing him. Alabama will be approaching a watershed moment soon; one where it is solely in our power to determine if we want national relevance — even dominance — in a sport given short shrift by so many administrations over so many years. Or, if we will decide we want to lose that coach to a program willing to invest in him, the facilities, and the program.
When you build it, they will come — students and fans flock to games. They’ve shown this over and over again. But it is also a recruiting-driven sport and a facilities arms race — and, lest I remind you, the University of Alabama largely began that arms race with its football facilities. ‘Twould be the bitterest irony to be upstaged at a game that Alabama helped create and lose one of the best young basketball coaches of this generation simply because we cheap out or decide that “we’ll get to it when we get to it.” The university and its fans must collectively ensure that the Crimson Tide can take a backseat for very few in those respects.
That means opening the pocketbook.
Alabama’s has not been a magical transformation, nor are the Crimson Tide winning with smoke and mirrors — Alabama is devouring the SEC because Coach Oats is building a culture of winning, one where players buy-in and put in the hard work to make success a reality. We, as a university community, can do no less.
“Why not us,” is the common refrain. And it’s a good question with just one sensible answer and simple solution. It can be us if we work to make it so.
So, put on the hard hat, don that blue-collar mentality, and get to work — it will be hard, no doubt. But get Nate Oats an arena and a very fat, long-term extension. Talk to legal today. Coach Oats has already earned it.