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OPINION: A more modest proposal

Kyle Gorcey

OPINION: A more modest proposal

There may be an alternative to constructing a new arena that won't take away any parking spaces

May 9, 2015

Disclaimer: This is less about my personal views and what would be mutually beneficial for athletics and Robert Morris University as a whole and more about reality.

There will be some tough decisions ahead on the direction of the university and the athletic department in regards of the construction of the proposed new multipurpose events center coming to campus. And I just wish to carry the conversation further. The reality is the new arena is happening.

Ross Bianco

 

As a result, I’ve crafted an alternative proposal for this situation, one that’s more modest in nature.

But first, to fully comprehend my proposal, you’ll need to consider a few facts.

1. There will never be another game like Kentucky at home. I feel safe in saying a Power Five Conference basketball team will never agree to come to Moon Twp. for a game, new arena or not. And why should they?

RMU will get some good mid-major competition, but the agreements will almost certainly yield a return game the following season. The video rendering might show RMU playing Kentucky, but it is highly unlikely that will ever happen again.

2. The First Four will always stay in Dayton, which means there is absolutely no chance it’ll come to RMU for the simple fact that even the proposed 4,500 seat arena is too small for the NCAA Tournament. The city of Dayton loves its  college basketball so it’ll do anything in its power to keep that event.

3. Assuming the $50 million is raised, sponsorship will be an interesting sell. Quinnipiac entered into a five-year agreement with High Point Solutions Inc. for a grand total of one million dollars, so sponsorship will definitely be a tough sell to any business. Hats off to whoever is involved in the fundraising process.

4. Robert Morris will have a tough time jumping to a larger conference.

The Mid-American Conference? No way. Joe Walton Stadium isn’t a BCS-level facility.

The Atlantic-10 would be interesting but football and men’s lacrosse would be left out.

Horizon League? What do you do with football and men’s and women’s lacrosse?

While staying in the Northeast Conference might make sense, will they let it slide? I do not think so, at least according to Commissioner Maureen Norris relating to Monmouth leaving the NEC for the MAAC- (while the NEC let them participate in Field Hockey, the NEC stopped sponsorship of the sport in the spring)

“When Monmouth University decided to accept an invitation to join the MAAC, they did so with full knowledge that the MAAC did not sponsor the sports of football, field hockey and bowling.  Monmouth subsequently submitted an application to be an associate member in the NEC in each of those three sports.  The NEC Council of Presidents evaluated the associate membership requests separately, and in doing so made their decisions relative to the long term stability and interests of the Conference.  We look forward to continuing our partnership with Monmouth in the sport of field hockey, and wish Monmouth success in the sports of football and bowling as they seek new partnerships in those sports.”

5. Where is everybody going to park for said arena? How are they going to fit the new arena where the current Sewall Center parking lot is? According to the renderings architect Ross Bianco posted on his Twitter page, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of space for the venue. And if parking is not close by, the locals will not show out. Even with keeping the current lower Sewall lot, it would take more parking if they expected to fill the venue at any point.

newarena3

Rendering via Ross Bianco, Architect

Nick Buzzelli already discussed the attendance situation and the new arena, which is why, in my opinion, something needs to be done with the Sewall Center. Perhaps a remodeling of sorts.

The biggest change in the near 30-year-old history of the basketball and volleyball facility is painting the inside blue and adding the athletics logo to the walls.

There is a lot you could do with the current arena. Knock a few walls down, add chair-back seating all around and use the wooden bleachers for a ceremonial dumpster fire at the end of the year.

If they put up the Business, Nursing, and Communications/Information Systems buildings in roughly a year, individually, they could do something interesting with Sewall.

If Robert Morris University is ale to fundraise $50 million effortlessly, why not do this:

Give $25 million to renovate Sewall Center, use the other $25 million to improve the university.

The university can require any sponsorship deal to also donate matching funds to the university. Or what money they raise for their cause.

PNC Colonial Café, anyone?

Take a look around the Business Building; they have all kinds of plaques representing various donations, including a touchscreen stocks board.

According to Stadium Journey, a website which ranks and reviews stadiums and arenas across all sports, The Chuck is the 338th worst arena out of 351 that they have reviewed.

Joshua Guiher, who reviewed the Sewall Center for Stadium Journey stated, “Tickets were only $7 and you could easily find a seat in the first 5 or 10 rows, a great bargain for a NCAA tournament level team located on the edge of a major city. Great, affordable entertainment for a family in the area and the mascot interaction was a great bonus. The part that was lacking, and what keeps it from being rated higher, is that the lack of fans really killed the atmosphere.”

The attendance issue does affect the atmosphere, but that is not what I am talking about today. It is a beat issue by now, something that would need to change drastically.

There is one simple way to fix the problem here.

They could raise the profile of the team they have right now, get to the NCAA Tournament and go for a run.

No Northeast Conference team has won a game in the Round of 64, only boasting three wins in the play in game.

Recruits?

They are not coming here just to play in the Sewall Center. They recruit against other mid major teams with similar problems. A shiny new arena might not be the deal breaker for the caliber of players they recruit.

newarena2

Rendering via Ross Bianco, Architect

Andy Toole, for starters, is a reason why recruits come to Robert Morris.

The program also has a history of going to the NCAA Tournament.

Third is the opportunity to play Division I basketball.

Looking at the new strategic plan for 2014-2018, there is no mention of a new arena for basketball, but it does state “Critical upgrades to student living spaces as well as academic/instructional environments are a high priority”.

$25 million is a lot of money. There are a lot of projects the university could start with that money.

A real student center, to start.

The possibilities are endless. That will attract students. Increasing the school’s rankings will too.

I thought with a new arena, that the hockey teams would be brought to campus. While that was rumored in the early stages, nothing has been said since the plans started coming out. Men’s hockey usually packs over 70% of the Island any given night.

Plus, they do attract national powerhouses and ranked teams. Again, hockey is a sport Pitt and Duquesne do not have, and the only other major draw in the area would be the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Robert Morris University has not confirmed much about the new arena, other than the Board of Trustees have voted in favor for the plans and donations are being solicited.

IMG_7462Looking at the renderings of the new arena, it shows there will be an impressive amount of work to be done to the front entrance of the university.

Still, Sewall is 30 years old this year. If that is considered old, then I only have seven years of life to enjoy. I would much rather see money being put into renovations and the university.

At least they are repurposing Sewall at some point instead of tearing the building down.

While I will come back to see the new arena, I will wonder what other ways the university could have benefited.

 

 

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19 Comments

19 Responses to “OPINION: A more modest proposal”

  1. Evan T on May 10th, 2015 2:57 pm

    Maybe they might not be able to get a “Power Five” Conference team (ACC, BIG TEN, BIG 12, PAC-12, SEC) to play in the new arena (maybe Pitt tho 😉 , but they might be able to get some good teams from the A-10, American, Big East, C-USA. I could see (possibly)maybe some mid- to lower Big East teams playing there and some mid to lower teams from the American come. They probably (more likely than big east &american) could get some of the top teams from the A-10 to play there.

    While simply renovating the Sewell Center (the “chuck”) sounds good and all, putting 25 million into it (which is half of what the new arena will cost) sounds like WAY to much. Keeping the CHUCK and just renovating it will still keep RMU from scheduling bigger teams in the NEW ARENA.

    All in all, I hope to see more fans at the chuck next year than previous years. People should really come see the team plus they will have two local stars in ELIJAH MINNIE AND MATTY McCONNELL. Maybe that could factor into Packing the Chuck more frequently.

    GO RMU!!

    PS: I think for the first game at the New Arena they should try to play Pitt (if they would come) if they have a mature, good team returning for the first year at the new arena.

  2. Kyle Gorcey on May 11th, 2015 12:26 pm

    Pitt will never come to RMU to play a game for the sole reason that RMU does not have a win against them in 30 tries, all taking place at Pitt. Plus, if a team like Bryant gave them fits in February, it might not be as easy as a win for Pitt. It is still a buy in game for RMU, they receive some money for the matchup. RMU does not have any money in their budget to pay a quality opponent to come to Sewall or the proposed arena.

    RMU already has had home and home agreements with Mid American Conference basketball schools and even had some success against them. I assume that is as far as they get, they might get a few middle of the pack A-10 teams. The NEC is in the bottom third in Division 1 basketball conferences in terms of RPI. There is no doubt they will get some new teams to come to campus. If they face a Big East team, its going to be a buy in game, same with the AAC. Conference USA might be a good target for some new teams to play. Moving to a bigger conference would better serve getting bigger opponents to come to Moon Township.

    Adding local talent is a good way to add to the stands, and with the novelty of the new arena, there will be more people in the stands. If they sign a WPIAL player or two a year, they will get more interest within the region.

    The way the team has played well the past few years, they deserve more people in the stands.

  3. Evan T on May 11th, 2015 7:48 pm

    The local recruits indeed help as you and me both stated. The McCONNELL name, however, will even carry more weight than any other local recruit. It will not only (hopefully) draw more fans, but also the TV announcers on big games will recognize the name and the fact that his bro played for Arizona.

    Maybe the first game could be against Duquense??? Lots of their fans and RMU fans could potentially easily pack the new arena.

    They might be able to get anyone in the A10 but maybe like VCU or Dayton. But those teams still might come, idk…

    A new conference is definitely happening in the next 4-10 years for sure.
    I would want them to move into at least into the Horizon, MAC, or A-10 for the move to be worth it. ( In my opinion, RMU might as well stay in the NEC rather than moving to the MAAC or the colonial league etc… )

    Opinion(s)????

    Go RMU!!

  4. Kyle Gorcey on May 12th, 2015 11:25 pm

    As long as McConnell stays and plays all four years, locals will come out to see him play. I just do not know how many.

    Duquesne would be a popular choice to open the new arena, it would get a lot of people out. Duquesne fans would feel at home on the inside, since the renderings look close to what the Palumbo Center is.

    VCU and Dayton can get Power 5 conference teams to play in their arenas, which are filled regularly. Unless RMU found their way to the A-10, hosting them is unlikely.

    As I stated before, a new conference is likely with the new arena. Going from the NEC to the A-10 might be too big of a jump all of a sudden. There is too many Football issues for a move to the MAC. Horizon might be the best bet for now, but several sports would be displaced and several others sponsored in the league were cut two years ago. Either way, at best the Horizon is a 1 bid league with a chance for a second.

    Even with a move to the MAAC or the Colonial (VCU did some damage out of there!), the increase in seeding goes from a 16 seed to as high as a 12 seed. The highest seeding by an NEC team in the modern era of the tournament is RMU’s 15 seed when they played Villanova. Whenever the next conference realignment happens, RMU will likely follow.

  5. Evan T on May 13th, 2015 12:13 pm

    The Horizon league would be a fabulous move. Looking at the A-10, even tho this move is unlikely, RMU could keep players (they could get and keep better ones too in the Horizon) like Reed, etc and I think they could’ve beat at least half the teams in the A10 already these past 8 years. (Five straight years RMU has beat the Dukes).

    Yes the MAAC and colonial league are “better” conferences that the NEC, but RMU should make a better move while they are moving. The horizon would be a great move and we are actually wanted there.

    Question: who do you think next years starting five (plus 6th man) will be ???…

    I’ll state mine:

    PG: Kavon Stewart
    SG: McCONNELL
    SF: Rodney Pryor
    PF: Elijah Minnie
    F/C: Aaron Tate

    Sixth man: Isaiah Still

    Go Colonials!!

  6. Kyle Gorcey on May 15th, 2015 2:28 pm

    The ESPN contract with the Horizon League will provide additional exposure, which will be a tool to get incoming recruits.

    Reed, somehow flew under the radar during his recruiting. I was not surprised when he announced he was leaving, he showed unreal skill on offense and defense. He wanted more exposure, he’ll get it in the arguably the best conference for college basketball. Personally, I do not think RMU had a chance keeping Reed with the season he had. No matter the arena or conference.

    I can’t find any argument with your starting lineup for next year. There is going to be a lot of playing time up for grabs. There’s not a lot of film on these guys, so it will come down to who shows the most before the season.

  7. Evan T on May 16th, 2015 11:42 am

    All of the recruits that Andy and staff have recruited look to be talented. We already know the Matty McConnell is a scoring machine and Isaiah Still should be good off the bat as he had like 12-13 good mid-major offers (Harvard and LaSalle being two bigger ones).

    Billy Giles led the D1 JuCo in rebounding ( 15 rebs a game) and also scored 24 pts a game!! That’s amazing. He will be more mature ( a junior) and could be a key rebounder for the team and could play at the 3 or 4 spot.

    I do agree that if they were in the Hoizon and had the new arena that Reed probably (might have) would have left, but if RMU was in the A-10 and had made the tourney, he probably would have stayed as Umass was (I think) his second choice behind Clemson and they are in the A-10. And if you transfer you must sit out a year.

    I think for next years recruiting class (2016 class) they should go after a big or two ( 6-8 or taller) as they already have two offered. They new arena is still a sell for this years and next years as even this class could play in it senior year (opening yr of arena). For after this season, RMU loses 3 bigs (Aaron Tate, Leo Gomis, and Stephen Bennett).

    Sadly, the Horizon just added a team but might want to add two more (and get to 12 teams total) down the road. RMU isn’t ready to move yet especially due to the Chuck not being up to par with Horizon League facilities.

    I am curious, what kind of deal does the Horizon have with ESPN?? Like, how many games are on TV?????

    Go Bobby Mo!

  8. Kyle Gorcey on May 18th, 2015 9:50 pm

    The two early signings are impressive.

    For some reason, the younger McConnell only had one other offer, from Youngstown State. Looking at his brother and posting a quadruple-double, I would have thought other programs would have recruited him harder. Toole is going to have a tough time keeping him off the court.

    Personally, I feel that early on, Steven Whitley will get a lot of playing time. Listed at 6’4″ and 210 pounds, taking a post-grad year after high school can only help his quest for playing time.

    I have not seen much on Jordan Lester, but Toole noticed something about him all the way in Seattle.

    Joe Hugley looks like an athletic forward with three point range. Also very well spoken in his interviews. He’ll push for playing time early. Toole has brought in some exciting talent in once again. At least on paper, the potential of the bigs on the roster is exciting. I hope Toole finds another gritty player like Aaron Tate, his impact on the program is great.

    One of Reed’s first offers was from FGCU, I thought he would have followed Enfield to USC. Clemson came in and any day of the week, the opportunity to play in the ACC is one most players cannot pass up.

    With the upcoming debate on paying college athletes, I would imagine there will be some conference movement where RMU could have the opportunity to move up. The size of the arena leads me to believe the CAA or MAAC would be the likely destination. The proposed 4,500 arena would be small compared to other A-10 or Horizon League teams.

    Horizon League had a deal where 20-30 games and all their tournament games would be broadcasted from 2010-13, I am unsure if Fox Sports has the deal now or if it is still under ESPN.

  9. Evan T on May 19th, 2015 3:42 pm

    There are at least 1 arena in each league ( A-10 and colonial) that are about the size or so. RMU at this point can’t build a ten thousand seat arena unless they are playing Kentucky every game. Right now, they need more fans to fill the new proposed arena. A brand new arena plus the success of the Program should be able to get into a good mid-major conference. The colonials should try to get into the best conference possible that will allow them to be competitive and still have a realistic chance of winning the conference tournament. (The A-10 would be different because it’s a multi bid conference and would be interesting to see how the colonials could do in there… Most likely not happening now, but maybe 20 years or more down the road as a possibility)

    As to McCONNELL, he did commit pretty early and might have got interest from good schools and some good offers. He committed to Robert Morris in September before basketball season was even close to starting ( ok, two months). This was a good thing for RMU as he didn’t have any high major or high mid-major offers (like Dayton, VCU etc….) to ponder about.
    I am hoping that no matter how well he does, he will stay all four years. I think this is a much better bet than Reed as in an interview matty said he wanted to stay all four years.

    What do you think about Billy Giles and could he be a 20 min per game or more guy playing as a SF or PF (3 or 4 spot) ???

    Go RMU….!

  10. Evan T on May 28th, 2015 9:24 pm

    I think that Penn state actually could come and play at the new arena…
    (I know what you said about the P-5 teams, i know……)
    The reason I think that is that it would be a competitive game and that RMU’s relationship to their hockey team would definitely help. If it did happen, probably could/would be a deal they play here one year then RMU plays at Penn State..

    Thoughts??????

    Go Bobby mo!

  11. Kyle Gorcey on June 15th, 2015 3:06 pm

    We would have to pay Penn State at minimum, I would assume around $100,000 to play at RMU. Penn State is not big on basketball, it could be a winnable game for RMU. The athletic department is already stretched for money, as most teams not in Power 5 conferences are.

    Set up a tournament where you get teams like Pitt, Duquesne, SFU, RMU, Youngstown State, West Virginia, Penn State, Akron, Kent State, and Cleveland State and play them at Consol like the Three Rivers Classic. I could see that happening, those schools make up a lot of the alumni base in the area and would draw people.

    Hockey is a different field, there are less than 60 D1 teams in the nation. RMU’s Hockey team can compete with national powerhouses. RMU is easily in the top half of the nation any given year. Plus, the only other game in town is the Penguins.

    Relating back to McConnell, if he averages half of what he did in high school, I would expect him to look elsewhere. The Pittsburgh Pro-Am coming up should give a chance for the new guys to show their talents.

  12. Anonymous on June 30th, 2015 6:41 pm

    Is there a chance the arena will be up and running by the 2017-18 season?

  13. Kyle Gorcey on July 7th, 2015 12:40 am

    No. According to state documents the arena will begin construction June 2016 and it is forecasted that it will take 2 years to build. If they get the funding and approvals they need, it will be ready for the start of the 2018-19 season.

  14. Anonymous on July 24th, 2015 9:30 pm

    Is the move to the Atlantic 10 more likely to happen if the A10 forces a team like Fordham or Duquense out? Do you think RMU will pursue the Horizon or the A10 more? Lastly, would RMU leave the NEC for a conference like the MAAC?

  15. Kyle Gorcey on July 27th, 2015 2:04 am

    I doubt the A-10 would force any team out. Fordham and Duquesne would not leave the A-10 to make less money in a lower tier conference. It would be a poor decision on their part if any team left the A-10. While a mid-major conference, any given year it is one of the top 10 or so conferences in college basketball which equates to a lot of money in TV deals and sponsorship.

    Northern Kentucky just joined the Horizon League and it is at an even 10 members. I do not see them adding any more teams.

    MAAC could be the best bet if they wanted an even 12 members. It is a clear upgrade over the NEC. Football would be stuck to find a new conference and RMU would likely have to add Baseball and Men’s Cross Country to join. To comply with Title 9, they would have to add already cut sports such as Women’s Field Hockey and Golf.

    My prediction? The next round of conference re-alignment should take place in 8-12 years. If the new basketball arena plans get carried out and they stay competitive, they will move up. Though now more than ever, schools are questioning the value of a Division I athletic program. Some programs will go Division II or III to save money so openings might appear out of nowhere.

  16. Anonymous on July 27th, 2015 8:25 pm

    Could a move into the MAAC happen soon? Considering most of the arenas are the size of the Sewall Center.

  17. Kyle Gorcey on July 28th, 2015 2:34 pm

    No. Quinnipiac built their new facility in 2007 while Monmouth built theirs in 2009. They did not announce they were moving until 2012.

    It is going to take awhile for them to switch conferences. Like I said, it might take place 7-10 years.

    Every conference has so many requirements to join. All full members have Baseball, Basketball, and Cross Country. RMU would need to add two sports and a baseball stadium. With the previous cuts before, I doubt this is would be the case.

    The more I look at it, the less I believe RMU will switch conferences.

  18. Michael on September 6th, 2015 5:07 pm

    Have any of you wondered why the university hasn’t made the changes that you all speak of? They can’t raise the money for those projects. Period. Alumni don’t want to donate for another dorm, or to raise faculty salaries, or build a new parking lot. That is not “sexy”. They want to donate to something that excites them, and like it or not, at RMU that is Men’s Basketball. Every dollar that is being raised for the arena is only being donated because it is strictly going to the new arena. Very few, if any, of the people who are donating toward this $50 million arena will give their money to any other cause on campus. The university can’t just use the money for other things, as both of these articles so ridiculously campaign for. These donations would be taken back if not used for the new arena. The reason other improvements are not forthcoming at a quick pace is the fact that people don’t get excited about donating to parking on campus, or adjunct salaries. It will NEVER happen that way. Raising the profile of the university athletic programs is the only way to generate buzz about RMU, like it or not. Enrollment began to spike in 2010 when they almost upset Villanova in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and the momentum from that has helped in getting the new business building, the communications building and the nursing building. While the purpose of higher education is education, you don’t hear much about colleges outside of the Ivy League for anything other than their athletic programs. Like it or not, THAT is reality.

  19. Kyle Gorcey on September 21st, 2015 1:03 am

    While it may not be exciting, these buildings are the reason why students choose RMU. The school funded Wheatley and the Nursing buildings entirely with state funds and donations, and any future non-residential building will be funded this way. The Business building did have some sponsorship as referenced above along with state funds and donations. Alumni are willing to donate to these causes. They will donate to athletics too. Most of the money for the new arena will come via sponsorship and state funds. In matter of fact, the grant from state funds does not mention anything about donations. I am sure there will be donations, but it will not have an enormous effect on the project.

    Like I said before, RMU could choose to put half the funds in the arena and the other half in the school. They would make this very clear and people would still donate.

    Regarding the recent growth, since 2010, RMU added more graduate students, international students, an online program, and brought a Holiday Inn. This had little to do with athletics.

    Every student has to care about academics, while every student will not care about athletics. I would feel safe saying that on average, one basketball game a year creates a buzz on campus, usually an ESPN game or an NEC Championship.

    Yes, they get more applications due to these triumphs. It happens every year to some lucky college. Did the Mike Rice/Andy Toole era help grow the university? Yes, it was one of the reasons. When I went on my tour here, I did not go in Joe Walton or Sewall Center. I am the farthest thing from an athlete, I toured academic buildings and dorms.

    I applied to Butler and VCU because of their success in the NCAA Tournament. Realistically, I was never going to go to these schools. This does not come from a first four win, the national buzz comes from an upset or a run. Look at Florida Gulf Coast University advancing to the Sweet 16. Never heard of the school before, now a recognizable brand to the casual observer.

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