MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There was an unexpected part of the mostly unscripted press conference Bob Huggins called last Saturday — “mostly” because he started with some statistics from an NCAA study showing the transfer trend at his schools is happening elsewhere. West Virginia University men’s basketball coach then unleashed something he came prepared to say.
Ironically, Huggins said it inside the school’s fancy, expansive practice facility, but the WVU coach truly believes his program’s facilities have contributed to the number of players who have transferred out of his program in recent years.
“I hear the term ‘arms race’ and I don’t like the term,” Huggins said, “but the reality is the Coliseum is 44 years old and it’s never really had a makeover.”
The building had minor additions and was maintained through the years before seeing some more dramatic projects in the past 10 years. In 2004, various work produced a team lounge and theater room, renovated the locker rooms for the men’s and women’s teams, enhanced the strength and conditioning center, the equipment room and the training room and refurbished the exterior roof. Work on club seating areas was also finished and was made to include private concession stands, lounges and restrooms. In 2008, a scoreboard with video capability was added.
Yet crowding in the concourse and parking outside the building are issues. The Coliseum needs 102 flushable restroom units and 21 concession transaction points just to meet federal standards. Wireless connectivity is a consistent gripe among patrons and the press. Postgame interviews with players and with Huggins happen in separate rooms in the private club seating space.
Huggins obviously knows the problem, but he believes others do, too. He said the ease with which those problems can be exchanged is feeding the problem of players leaving his program.
“Social media today is incredible,” he said. “A guy at Wisconsin-Green Bay knows what a guy is doing in Santa Barbara, Calif., because of social media. And because of the AAU circuit, everyone gets to know everyone.”
In his mind, Huggins sees future college players traveling the region or the country playing in AAU events or showcase camps and getting to know other future players. They become acquaintances throughout the recruiting process and stay in touch as they make their college decisions. It’s then natural for them to follow one another as their college careers begin and develop.
As one player sees pictures that another player has taken of his home arena or an arena his team is visiting, that one player begins to look at his home arena and the facilities and wonder if he has it as good as he could somewhere else.
“You all need to understand that,” Huggins said. “This social media thing is crazy.”
It’s no different than the more traditional way words can open eyes and get the mind working. Huggins said redshirt freshman forward Elijah Macon will play as part of a traveling team this summer in China. Huggins knows Macon will get to know the players and they’ll inevitably get to talking about what they have on campus.
Macon will talk about the Coliseum and the practice facility. The next person will talk about his arena, but in the natural way to keep the conversation moving, he’ll add something he has that Macon does not. The third person will talk about his digs and then throw in something the first two didn’t mention. On it goes as the disparity between the first and last to speak grows.
“It’s probably not all true, but they still think it is,” Huggins said. “So if we really want to move forward, if we really want to become a national presence on a yearly basis, (Coliseum upgrades) need to happen. Otherwise we’re going to continue to be pretty much what we are.”
So Huggins endorses the projects planned for the Coliseum. Exactly when they will begin is for now a guess.
“The short answer,” athletic director Oliver Luck said, “is we don’t know.”
WVU will get to work on the football stadium and address concerns that are similar there with concession stands and restrooms and the open space in concourse areas, but there is also work to be done to areas at the base of the stadium where pyrite continues to surface and cause structural problems. A team meeting room with tiered seating to accommodate the entire team and staff will be added to the Puskar Center.
A lot of the $106 million will go toward those items, but not all of it, and leftover funds will go to a locker room for visiting soccer teams, a new track at the Shell Building and the Coliseum. College classes and offices there are moving to a new building on the Evansdale Campus and it’s likely those Coliseum classrooms will be leveled to create wider hallways in the concourse area. More bathrooms and restrooms are needed, as well.
Luck said larger ideas are being considered, too. The hallways (vomitories) that lead from the concourse to the inner bowl of the Coliseum don’t all line up with the aisles that take patrons to their seats. Crowds of people are funneled into a narrow walkway and then have to walk left or right to get to the appropriate aisle.
“If you designed that building today, you’d design the aisles so they’d line up with the vomitories,” Luck said. “If you did that, then you wouldn’t need that smaller inner ring to move around. So what do you do with that inner ring? Would you build boxes without having to knock walls down? You could put in these boxes — I’m not sure they’re suites — in that inner concourse. Those are good seats. You can sell those and make some decent money.”
Doing so would mean reconfiguring the lower seating bowl and essentially rotating a new design so the aisles meet the vomitories. That, though, would require all new seats because no one makes the current ones.
“Those are all decisions we haven’t made yet,” Luck said. “We need professionals to guide us and tell us what it costs and all those sorts of things.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.