Money Well Spent

COLUMN: The renovations to the Assembly Hall could lead to more than fancy scoreboards and plush seats in Champaign for years to come.

CHAMPAIGN - More room for wrasslin' moves and monster trucks and plush seats if the price is right.

There's a little bit for everybody in the announced renovations to the Assembly Hall.

As it pertains to the only thing that really matters, though, the upside is two-fold.

The $160 million project is a commitment to give Coach John Groce nothing less than the best. It's also another lure in the tackle box to try to snag top-flight recruits.

And those two things go hand in hand.

Groce is a coach that's been trending up since his days as an assistant at Ohio State. He's charismatic, a bundle of positive rage that grinds out and makes the most of both trips to the NCAA Tournament and on the recruiting trail.

If he continues to win, he'll become a candidate for other jobs. UCLA is open now, but Groce isn't quite ready. Yet.

And while Illinois may not be the destination job that UCLA, Kansas (Bill Self, anybody?), a handful of other blue bloods or the NBA (how did that work out, Lon?) provides, I contend Illinois is in the top tier.

There's tradition, alignment with a powerful conference and bountiful recruiting ground.

The upgrade in facilities adds even more allure. Look, I don't see Groce leaving for many jobs to begin with. Throw in that he's from the Midwest and is a Big Ten guy that's big on family, it would take quite a bit to pull him away.

But you never know who could come calling.

That's why the renovation is so important. It's more than a new, fancy scoreboard and a second grand entrance (you know, just in case you can't find your way in).

It's about showing Groce that Illinois is committed to doing everything it takes to win. When the time comes and his name is hot in the silly season, Groce will remember this.

And recruits will start seeing it, too.

That's not to say the Hall was a bad place to catch a game prior to all this spending. The place was rocking during wins against Indiana and Ohio State, obnoxiously loud when the team needed stops to eek out wins against Penn State and Nebraska.

But in this day and age, every bell and whistle scores a slam dunk when recruits are on campus.

Big is good. Bigger is great. And even then, it still might not be enough. That's how it is in recruiting, where any and every advantage can be the critical selling point. And any perceived negative could be the main turn-off or a point of emphasis for opposing staffs talking negatively about others.

That's what the Assembly Hall has become. It's fine, but it could be better.

If you have access to the money, you make it better. You give your bright, young coaching star another tool to work with. In this business, you can never have enough tools.

And if he can sway top recruits and win more games, he'll have the Hall and the admin that had his back to thank, in part, later.

That could pay off when others come courting. How much is keeping Groce around long-term worth?

Oh, about $160 million or so. It's a start at least. Money well spent if you ask me.

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