Column: Put seat controversy in rear-view, give Kenney time

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

Time to call off the dogs, Bona Nation. The courtside seats are here to stay.

Now that new athletic director Tim Kenney has explained that the Atlantic 10 Conference made it a point of emphasis for schools to control the court surface during games, it’s clear he’s not some naive newcomer who came in and unconsciously ripped away the Reilly Center home court advantage with his bare hands. Rather, the A-10 forced his hand and he chose to monetize a tough situation for the school’s benefit.

The process would have been much smoother if the Bona community was aware of what was going on before the change was invoked, but it now appears that student and alumni angst was misdirected. If you’re still looking to point fingers in this whole ordeal, you should point them at the conference, not Kenney.

It’s now time to put the whole saga behind us and move forward. In today’s rapidly changing college athletics landscape, the athletic department cannot allow themselves to belabor this frivolous issue. After all, continuing to compete in a conference that is beginning to produce some light-heavyweights (Dayton, Davidson, VCU) should be the paramount focus.

Lost in the drama of the past few weeks has been that Tim Kenney is still the right man for this job. He has a proven track record as a savvy fundraiser, evidenced by his successful tenure at UMass, where he secured the first $10 million gift in the history of the university and acted as lead planner for the new basketball practice facility. During his tenure, UMass’s athletic department revenue was at an all-time high.

Increasing revenue is obviously a must at Bonaventure, where enrollment and endowment have been in the daily lexicon for all the wrong reasons. The entire university is slogging through tough financial times, but boosting the athletic department is one way to get donors to pony up more cash.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, however, and an athletic director’s tenure sure isn’t either. Kenney will need time to earn the support of donors, sponsors and students, and he definitely deserves more time than we’re giving him; you cannot judge his overall performance after three months or one decision. An AD needs a minimum two-year window before you can fully judge his impact. Sometimes it takes even longer.

In of Steve Watson’s first year as SBU’s Director of Athletics, the men’s basketball team was still reeling from the 2003 scandal. The team went 8-22 in 2007-08, winning just two A-10 games and extending the program’s streak of single-digit win seasons to five. Instead of writing off Watson and new coach Mark Schmidt, the Bona faithful trusted the process and were repaid with a 2012 Atlantic 10 championship.

Kenney has not been tasked with hiring a new head coach or reviving a laughingstock of a basketball program; the 2015-16 Bonnies have a stockpile of new and returning talent and are a darkhorse pick in the conference. He faces a unique, off-court set of challenges, challenges he already has plans to overcome.

Yes, the courtside seats raised a firestorm of controversy, but they also showed that the man in charge knows how to bring in the bucks. At the time of Kenney’s question-and-answer session last Thursday, the school had received 34 commitments to buy the seats, which are priced at $710 each, with $500 going to the Bona Athletic Fund. Not only has the athletic administration found a money-making way to circumvent potential punishment from the Atlantic 10, it has shown it can close the deal as well.

Kenney is a deft businessman, and a smart one at that. Fighting the A-10 on its point on emphasis would have been a foolish move for a rookie AD to make, especially since the student section is looking at a marginal one-or-two-foot backup. If he had come in swinging (figuratively) with the A-10 brass, Bona would have been negatively impacted as a result. It’s not like SBU is one of the bigwigs of the conference and can start much of a fuss without consequence; remember, media members like ESPN’s Dick Vitale thought the Bonnies should have been kicked out of the league when the scandal hit.

The initial outrage from the seats story has been replaced by a sense of understanding, which makes sense at a Franciscan university. Students (like yours truly) and alumni need to move forward and give Kenney time to work the kinds of wonders he worked at UMass.

Backing up a few feet will be a worthy sacrifice if the Bonnies can take some great leaps forward.


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