Before we dig any deeper, let's look at West Virginia's current basketball facilities. Or should I say facility. When it comes to the men's basketball program, you can find everything under one big mushroom-like roof at the Coliseum. As a venue for games, the building is as great as it's ever been since opening in 1970. Fans fill the seats with a sea of gold from November to March, and the atmosphere is annually regarded as one of the toughest places to play in the conference. For a league that includes the likes of perennial Final Four contenders Syracuse and Connecticut, that's quite a compliment.
Needless to say, gameday at the Coliseum is something that does not need much – if any – improvement. But we're not talking about the games. In the words of NBA superstar Allen Iverson, "We talkin' bout practice!"
If there is a person in the WVU athletic department in charge of scheduling floor time at the Coliseum, then they aren't being paid enough. In addition to the men's basketball team, the Coliseum floor is the practice area for women's basketball and volleyball. And although wrestling and gymnastics each have their own practice facilities, they still hold their competitive meets in the big building on Gale Catlett Drive. Throw in the fact that a handful of physical education classes are taught on the Coliseum floor, and you have no less than six different groups using the space.
And here I thought that baseline photographers were the only folks who had a legitimate complaint about not having enough floor space in the building. Can you imagine having to share a backyard with five other neighbors? Especially when you're the one who planted the flowers and cuts the grass!
Now look around at the rest of the athletic programs. We've already established that the wrestling and gymnastics teams each have their own facilities. (Deservedly so, I might add as both of those sports require more than just an empty gym floor). The men's and women's soccer teams have a brand new stadium, as well as a practice field adjacent to the stadium. Two teams, two places to practice. Certainly sounds logical to me. The football program has Milan Puskar Stadium, the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility, and a huge grass practice field all within a few hundred yards of one another. That's three different places for one team to practice for those of you keeping score at home.
But men's basketball? Nada. Zilch.
It's time for that to change. Giving the program a building of its own makes more sense than washing your red clothes separate from your whites. It doesn't have to be a $35 million spectacle like the facility being put together at the University of Kentucky. Heck, you may even be able to add on to or renovate part of an existing structure such as the Shell Building. However it's done, West Virginia must find a way to fund this necessary improvement. After all, it could go a long way in taking the program to the next level.
From a recruiting standpoint, it would certainly help. Many of the national pundits say that you can't recruit any of the best players to Morgantown. In his five years at WVU, John Beilein's recruiting has steadily improved from year to year. Also, one needn't go any farther than Rich Rodriguez's football program to see that you can in fact recruit some of the best players in the country to Morgantown. Many football recruits say that facilities are a big reason they picked WVU. A basketball practice facility would likely yield similar results for Beilein's program.
From a logistics standpoint, it makes sense as well. First of all, it would free up more practice time on the Coliseum floor. I think that every program that uses the floor would more than welcome that scenario. By putting a film room in the new men's facility, it would allow Mike Carey's program to use the existing film room in the Coliseum more often.
Sooner or later, the program will be searching for a new coach. That's not to say that Beilein is or is not going anywhere anytime soon. He may be, he may not be. But when the time does come for the program to set sail with a new captain, having state of the art facilities in place would definitely make the job more attractive. Splitting floor time with five other groups? Not so much.
Finally, it would be a place for the program to call home. The coaching offices are in need of renovation, and moving them into a new building would also free up some space on the second floor of the Coliseum for something like a classroom or a computer lab. There has been talk about constructing a WVU basketball hall of traditions similar to what can be found for football at the Puskar Center. Having such a place in the new building would make it feel even more like home, and serve as a historical presence for a program that has accomplished so much (more than 1,500 wins) yet still strives for so much more (a national championship).
One might ask how such a project might be funded. The answer is as simple as a patented Beilein backdoor cut: teamwork. Donors, administrators, fans, alumni and even students can work together to come up with the necessary dollars to make this happen.
West Virginia basketball is on the cusp of being a permanent fixture on the national stage. Taking the next step will involve a commitment to the program that has yet to be seen. Doing so, though, would pay big dividends in the present as well as the future.