By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
You know the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” If your car was running perfectly, you wouldn’t go under the hood and start taking apart the engine.
On Friday, the St. Bonaventure athletic department took a sledgehammer to the engine when it sent out a press release announcing new priority seats in the Reilly Center. The most notable and controversial addition is a row of padded courtside seats across from the team benches that will cost $710 per seat for the season.
Irate Bonaventure students have already begun to put two and two together- the Bona student section is across from the opposing team’s bench, which means half of the courtside seats will be placed right in front of them.
The new seats will push back the students who help create one of the most hostile environments in college basketball. They will no longer be able to stand on the court, heckle visiting players and enjoy the best fan experience a college kid could possibly have. They find themselves on the wrong side of this seating change and are obviously far from pleased, taking to social media to voice their disgust.
In the press release, new athletic director Tim Kenney explained the move by saying that from the time he started his position in April the athletic department has “looked at ways we can provide our fans the best possible experience when they come to the Reilly Center. This is just the start.”
If anything, this seems to be the start of a more corporate, commercialized fan experience at one of the most traditional arenas in the college game. What’s next, the Bona Wolf being sponsored by Geico? A giant Pepsi logo being stamped on the murals for the Stith Brothers and Fred Crawford? The Reilly Center being renamed the KFC/Taco Bell Center after one of America’s top fast food conglomerates wins the naming rights?
I’m definitely getting carried away, but you get the point. Pushing the students off the court is a sacrilegious act, like telling Duke’s Cameron Crazies they are no longer allowed to wear face and body paint, banning “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” from Kansas’s Allen Fieldhouse or prohibiting UMass coaches from using hair gel.
Last year’s athletic department slogan was “Be The Tradition.” This year’s might as well be “Forget Tradition, Buy Our Fancy Seats.”
Kenney was off to a near-perfect start in his tenure before this announcement, too. He said all the right things to alumni and current athletes, and it’s been clear that he has a strong vision for the program. Thursday’s press release confirming that men’s basketball coach Mark Schmidt and women’s basketball coach Jim Crowley had inked new contract extensions through the 2020-21 season garnered a celebratory reaction from Bona Nation; the men truly deserved their new deals.
The unfortunate part for Kenney’s approval rating is that right now, current students don’t care about the long-term extensions. Why should they care about the 2020-21 season when a) that’s five seasons from now and b) they’ll be long gone by then? All they know is the most unique aspect of their home court advantage is being taken away, and the man who took it away was the executive associate athletic director at hated UMass for five years. “Is he still working for UMass?” one fan emailed me.
Not only are these seats a slap in the face to the students, they’re an unwise purchase for fans as well. Bonaventure alums shouldn’t require too much explanation: sitting in front a rowdy, oft-inebriated, oft-vulgar student section isn’t ideal if you want to have a pleasurable “fan experience,” and anyone who has been a part of the Wolfpack knows that. Also, what happens when the Bonnies pull off another upset of a ranked team next year and the students storm the court for the umpteenth time? Buy at your own risk.
As I see it, the students do have one very viable option at this point: throwing the chairs onto the court like Bobby Knight connecting with the alumni and asking for their help. If a group of alums felt strongly against the courtside seat idea and pitched in money to donate the seats to the students, the students would retain their advantage and it would be like nothing ever happened. Like normal student section procedure on game days, the seats would be first come, first served- not that the crew in the front row would be sitting down all that much.
The students and alumni do have a voice when it comes to their school, and it’s time to utilize that voice once again. The new seats are going to turn out to be a lose-lose situation, and a potentially dangerous one at that. Some ideas should never leave the drawing board.