Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Weekend scraps | by Jay

Short item in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as Heisler makes the Big East 3-game agenda official. Confirms what we had been hearing lately.

The Irish, a member of the Big East in all sports except football, will play three Big East teams each football season on a home-and-home basis. All eight conference teams will face the Irish.

The news, hinted at for months, came after Big East meetings in Ponte Vedra, Fla., where Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White first confirmed the games.

"We told (Big East Commissioner) Mike Tranghese not to expect us to become members if we did this," said Notre Dame associate athletic director John Heisler. "But the Big East has been a very beneficial relationship for us, and Mike T. encouraged us to do what we could, specifically if we would consider the prospect of making more of a commitment."

Pitt had already signed Notre Dame to an eight-game deal from 2006-2015, in addition to this year's season opener at Heinz Field. The Panthers' games will count towards Notre Dame's three games each year.

Notre Dame did not ask for a two-for-one deal, Heisler said. Notre Dame will play one of the three Big East teams on a yearly basis -- expected to be Rutgers or Connecticut -- at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, reportedly for recruiting and alumni purposes.

"We have every reason to want the Big East to work," Heisler said. "It was the most attractive and might have been the only option for us to remain independent in football. So if we can do anything to help, why not do it?"

A short Tom Zbikowski profile from the Chicago Sun-Times. Starts as an update, ends as "Body by TZ".

Also, a few interesting JACC updates & articles in the SBT this morning.

Time to Re-Joyce. Now that the Gug is almost complete, the south dome of the JACC is finally the "top priority" in the atheltic facility upgrade cycle, although the timetable and final cost of the project remains uknown. There's some fundraising to do, and White and co. have to hammer out the construction timeline. Still, there's nothing like a little pre-publicity to get the juices flowing, and the overhaul sounds intriguing to say the least.
While the questions of who and when remain, what will be done is known. Arena seating, which includes 4,997 padded seats, 5,763 bleachers and 658 platform seats, will become all chairbacks of one color and drop the current 11,418 capacity by 600 to 800 seats. A state-of-the-art four-sided scoreboard, complete with high-speed video, will hang at center court.

Notre Dame also has worked with HNTB Architecture to redesign the south end of the upper arena to include a two-tiered structure that looks out onto the floor and extends into the front section of the south parking lot. The first level would house the university ticket offices, which currently reside in a corner of the second floor. The second level would be a private seating area that also opens into a banquet/reception area similar to the upper floors of the Notre Dame Stadium press box.
I dug around the HNTB website and I found this artist's rendition of the revamped facility:

I love what they've done with Juniper in the foreground, widening it and adding palm trees. And the causeway out to the Pacific Ocean behind the JACC is a nice touch.

(Kidding. That's the San Diego Convention Center, also by HNTB.)

Whatever it ends up looking like, it's long overdue. Jordan Cornette said that he's "going to miss this Joyce Center. No matter how crappy it really [was]." But frankly, I won't. From a fan's standpoint, the place is atrocious.

Day-glo seating that was oftentimes half-empty. Accordion-style wooden bleachers that belonged in a high school. For a crowded game, if you got stuck in the bleachers, your legs and knees were so crunched up you had to sit sideways. No, I won't miss it.

One of the biggest complaints over the years was the placement of the student section, and sadly, it looks like this issue won't be rectified.
Officials had hoped the redesign would pull the student body closer to the floor from their current location behind the east basket, and ring the court in the first few rows of seats. But with the way the Joyce Center is constructed, digging deeper into the floor to allow students to stand for games while not obstructing the view of those seated behind them is not an option.

Raising the arena roof to better configure the bowl also is not possible.

"We've looked at that and it's cost-prohibitive," White said. "There are some constraints to refurbishing an old house."
And speaking of "improving the atmosphere" -- which, notwithstanding physical upgrades, is the JACC's #1 problem -- Jason Kelly has a few modest proposals along those lines this morning: get rid of the cheesy halftime promotions and sleep-inducing awards presentations, lose the hamster ball races, and shelve the rubber chicken tosses, all of which kill the excitement. When you stop the game cold with something called the "Dancing Grannies", any buzz in the building just went poof:
As a segment on Letterman these little diversions might be entertaining. Inserting stupid human tricks into the natural lulls of a basketball game just pollutes an atmosphere that should be electric with so much distracting static.

This parade of mindless amusements implied a slogan the marketing department probably didn't have in mind: Notre Dame basketball. Try to sit through it.

To be fair, this goes on all over. Notre Dame didn't invent human hamster ball racing, but that's no excuse for neutralizing its home court with a glorified carnival ride that falls as flat as a participant who doesn't watch his step.

And as cute as those little kids look winding up and whipping poultry for sport, that also contributes to the impression of a basketball game infringing on the county fair.

Keeping the atmosphere pressurized requires cultivating a culture that encourages it.

That attitude can't be incorporated into a blueprint. It must be infused into the bloodstream of the place or any renovation will be only superficial.

Whatever it costs to update the Joyce Center, it deserves a comparable emotional investment.
I realize true excitement at the JACC stems from on-the-court action, but even in a breathtaking game like the Boston College barn burner last fall these hoopus interruptus moments brought the energy to a standstill and just killed the atmosphere. In this next big project for ND athletics, I hope there's a line item on the budget for Spirit Rejuvenation & Development.