OUR VIEW: IDAHO MUST ADDRESS BASKETBALL NEEDS

Since the 1960s Idaho has considered multiple basketball arena designs. No UI AD has pushed this facility more than Rob Spear since taking over in 2004. In the last decade at least four proposals have been considered. We’ve waited for this project to become a University of Idaho priority, and now new President “Chuck” Staben must end the talking and take meaningful steps to get an arena built.

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the ever-growing need to build a dedicated basketball arena gaining momentum, GoVandals.net is taking this opportunity to speak out. For a decade Idaho has tweaked a variety of conceptual designs for a new basketball arena on the University of Idaho campus. It’s a need Idaho has considered for over 40 years, and the heat got turned up a bit last season when part of the Cowan Spectrum stands collapsed (fortunately nobody was hurt).

This is not about supporting any particular aspect of the concept as it stands today. Clearly, the current concept (shown above and in renderings below) addresses Idaho’s most pressing and urgent needs for this facility, while economically building a new dedicated home for the Vandal basketball and volleyball programs.

Instead, this is about our support for Idaho getting out of the talking game and into the action game to get an appropriate venue built. “Appropriate” will mean different things to different people, but when this facility is built it must accommodate the Idaho program and growing university well into the future, relieve all the stresses caused by scheduling conflicts today, and eliminate the barriers to real growth that are caused by basketball and football sharing the same facility.

In the 1960’s, as historic Memorial Gym at the University of Idaho became obsolete for Division I basketball games, a glaring need began to take root to build a new basketball facility on campus. Compounding this need for a new home for Vandal basketball was the need to replace Idaho’s aging outdoor, wooden football facility, Neale Stadium. The need to build one new facility was an arduous task alone; attempting to build two at the same time was a much bigger undertaking.

As each season passed back then, the need intensified. Then in 1969, applying even more pressure to the situation, Neale Stadium was condemned and later that year burned down. Rebuilding plans varied for months, and, in 1970, a University of Idaho football game program showed future plans for a covered football stadium on the original Neale Stadium site. Those plans also included a proposed new arena for basketball and ice hockey on the north side of the new stadium with a planned capacity of just over 10,000 fans for basketball.

Early Design Concept: Plans in 1970 called for a new football stadium to be constructed on the site of Neale Stadium. Future plans also called for the stadium to be covered (shown here with the roof running north-south, rather than east-west as it was actually built), and for a new basketball pavilion to be constructed on the north side of the stadium.

Ultimately, due in-part to Idaho political wrangling and budget cuts (among other reasons), the stadium and arena plans were consolidated to turn the new football stadium into a single multi-sport facility. The stadium was built in 1971 (opening mid-season after construction delays), and four years later the stadium was covered – something Idaho had been considering for years to boost late-season attendance – with the barrel-shaped roof that is now part of a campus icon – the Kibbie Dome – which was completed in the summer of 1975. Sadly, that concept for a new basketball arena was axed as the football and basketball programs were consolidated into one, multi-purpose facility that was ultimately intended to serve football, basketball, track, and tennis.

When the Kibbie Dome was covered, Vandal basketball relocated to the Dome. Well, sort of… The Vandals could only play part of the basketball season in the Dome, which was an example of both poor administration and poor program management from the get-go. The Vandals played early season games in Memorial Gym, and then for most of the remainder of the regular season played in the Dome - a scheduling issue that continues to the present day. When the basketball teams played games in the Kibbie Dome, they played on an experimental plastic basketball court. Fortunately, it has long-since been replaced with a modern wood floor.

NOW OVER 40 YEARS LATER, the University of Idaho continues to grapple with the need to finally build a basketball facility that should have been built decades ago. This lesson also serves as a good example of a desperately needed athletic project falling victim to an early -- and political -- death for a variety of reasons, including hesitation from past administrators for whom athletic development at UI was not a top priority.

The conflict between basketball and football sharing the Dome is ever-present, and it affects growth for both programs. In the early basketball season Idaho is unable to erect the Cowan Spectrum in the Dome, forcing basketball games to be played in a facility – Memorial Gym – that was declared outdated 50 years ago. This conflict makes it particularly challenging to sell season tickets and book early season non-conference home games.

Recruiting efforts for both Vandal basketball and Vandal football are hampered by the sole fact that when basketball recruits are on campus, a football field covers the spot where they must imagine a basketball court. When football recruits visit the Idaho campus between the last home game and football national Letter of Intent day, a basketball court sits on an imaginary 50-yard line of the football stadium. For this reason alone (there are others), Vandal football will benefit directly from a new basketball arena.

Beyond sports, The Dome is also home to Idaho’s famous Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, which takes place late in the conference season, again sending Vandal hoops packing out of the Cowan Spectrum and into Memorial Gym.

The lack of a full time basketball venue also means that selling season tickets is a near impossible job for the University of Idaho ticket office because there are no reserved seats for the early part of the season (especially when the football program earns a bowl bid, which occupies the Dome through December). This lack of a consistent home court severely impacts the ability of Idaho to generate revenue for its basketball program.

Something has to change.

AS RECENTLY AS 2006, Idaho magazine published a very brief description accompanied by images of a new basketball arena to be located next to the Kibbie Dome on the North Lawn, similar to the original 1970 concept. That project, which was proposed by an experienced architectural services company, was back-burnered by the Idaho administration due in large part to the $70 MILLION price tag.

Now, after a decade of planning and driving down the cost of that 2006 plan, the University of Idaho appears to be on the cusp of finally taking on this long-overdue project. New Idaho President, Dr. Charles Staben, and other Idaho officials, including Athletics Director Dr. Rob Spear, are openly discussing the need for a this facility and the concepts they are considering.

The acute lack of practice facilities, coupled with the pressing inability to generate sufficient revenues from a dedicated basketball venue, is why building this facility is at a critical stage. A dedicated basketball facility relieves scheduling and growth conflicts for both the football and basketball programs, while a new facility has the potential to dramatically change how the basketball program operates.

Idaho’s basketball teams are the only Vandal sports teams that do not have a full-time venue to play in, and they are the only ones that do not have sufficient or dedicated practice facilities. Every other sport at Idaho enjoys a dedicated or specific game day venue, and uses a dedicated practice facility as needed - except Vandal basketball.

Again, something has to change.

It’s a need that has stood through numerous qualified athletic directors, and through 10 University of Idaho Presidents over a 50-year span. Vandal basketball needs a Division I facility where both basketball teams can play an entire season uninterrupted, where adequate practice space is reserved for all teams using the facility, and a place where Idaho fans can go to rally around their team for all home games.

Idaho needs to build a long-overdue home for Vandal basketball.

RECENTLY, IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW ON THIS SITE, Idaho Athletics Director Rob Spear discussed the most current plans for a new basketball facility. President Staben has also discussed the need for this facility at alumni gatherings and reportedly at UI Faculty events. These public discussions, while normal at most other institutions, rarely occur at Idaho and indicate a fundamental change in how this facility may be getting prioritized at UI. For this reason alone, we, as Vandals, need to get behind advancing an arena project.

In multiple interviews for this site and discussions with several of Idaho’s athletic directors over the years, there has always been one common thread: we need to get basketball out of the dome. It does not matter how prior management decisions led to Vandal basketball lacking a minimum Division I home 50 years later. What matters is moving forward to build a full-time basketball home and to separate the Vandal basketball program from the Vandal football stadium – once and for all.

The facility plan currently under consideration will contain a Game Day venue, an adjacent practice gym, and an adjacent pre-game convention space. Additionally, the facility complex includes locker rooms for the men’s and women’s teams, extra locker room space for hosting tournaments, and additional (and much needed) new offices and meeting rooms for the two basketball coaching staffs.

CONCOURSE LEVEL: The main entrance into the facility is at the top of the image above. The Arena will be located on the North lawn next to the Dome. The football field runs from east to west, the basketball courts run from north to south. In the middle is the lower bowl of the game day facility, with seating around the court, with the concourse accessible all the way around the lower-bowl seating. On the left side (the purple section) is a new conference room that can be used for pre-game events and other events. To the far right (including the green section) is a new dedicated practice gym which includes new locker rooms for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, plus extra locker rooms (for hosting tournaments), among other amenities. Between the gym and the game day venue is a row of coaches offices and meeting rooms (blue sections). There are four concession stands (colored pink in each of the corners), and men’s and women’s restrooms on the main concourse level (colored green).

The Game Day facility plan incorporates two seating levels, with a lower bowl that wraps around the court and an upper level evenly distributed on both sidelines. The game day venue has a capacity of 5,000 fans with about 1,000 seats reserved for students.

FULL ARENA SEATING: The seating is balanced on both sidelines, and seating on the baselines is also balanced. The facility will have an official capacity of 5,000 fans (minimum), which will include standing room only tickets. Over half of the arena’s seating capacity in this plan is situated in the lower bowl around the floor. Approximately 1,000 seats will be reserved for students.

Idaho is targeting a total project cost of $30 MILLION for this facility. Notably, the fundraising plans do not include any state funds, nor do they currently include University bonding or student fees. The funding resources may change, as may elements of the design, but right now a privately funded arena is publicly under discussion and in the planning stages at the University of Idaho.

VIEW FROM CONCOURSE: This is a rendering of the Arena plan, and it gives an idea of what the final facility could look like when viewing the court and the rest of the facility from the wrap-around concourse. Wide concourses will help the flow of fans in, out, and around the facility.

This new facility will meet the first goal of getting basketball out of the dome. But more importantly it provides a full-time, dedicated basketball facility for both games and practice, and will operate as a full-time Division I basketball venue, which will finally generate real revenue.

If constructed, the University of Idaho -- on the day the ribbon is cut -- will immediately enhance its revenue model from basketball games, provide full-time practice facilities for its teams, permanently remove basketball from the dome, eliminate scheduling conflicts with the football program and the Jazz Festival, and will finally operate and act as a Division I basketball program for both the men’s and women’s programs. Moreover, such a facility will serve as a better venue for broadcasting Vandal basketball games on television.

Vandal alumni, students, and fans should ask the usual and prudent questions about this new basketball arena facility complex; and, we welcome the discussions and debates on our forums.

But after we’ve chronicled ten years of planning for this facility by the Athletic Department, the time for the University of Idaho to take action is now. Increasing enrollment on the Moscow campus by 50% has been stated as a clear goal by new University of Idaho President Charles Staben. In our opinion, enhancing Idaho’s public image to complement its outstanding academic reputation with its most visible athletic programs – football and basketball – would be an ideal place to start.

Now is the time for Idaho to engage in some heavy lifting that is a crucial next step to developing and improving Vandal athletics. Vandal boosters, fans and alumni may not completely agree on all aspects of the facility details today. We will undoubtedly discuss and debate all aspects of the design till the first shovel hits the ground. But most Vandal fans also recognize the positive impact this facility – when all the details are worked out and when the facility is in it’s final form – will have on the overall athletics program, and the University of Idaho community.

Idaho must address its basketball needs.


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