Column: A year later, courtside seat controversy is like ancient history

(Photo Credit: GoBonnies.com)

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio

The minute I pressed “publish,” the firestorm started.

When I first read the St. Bonaventure athletics press release on July 17, 2015 announcing priority seating for basketball games in the Reilly Center, I skimmed through it. Initially, it read like one of the daily notice board emails many students ignore. I saw there would be courtside seats installed, but didn’t really pay attention to the locations.

That night, after I worked my shift at my summer job where phone use is prohibited, I saw the messages from a couple friends: “Did you see this?!” They included the link, and from the tone of their messages, they were appalled.

Confused, I re-read the release, closely this time. I then understood their outrage. Courtside seats, in front of the student section? Had the administrators lost their minds?

It was go time.

I got home and immediately started writing. I ripped new athletic director Tim Kenney, calling pushing students off the court “a sacrielgious act, like telling Duke’s Cameron Crazies they are no longer allowed to wear face paint, banning ‘Rock Chalk Jayhawk’ from Kansas’s Allen Fieldhouse or prohibiting UMass coaches from using hair gel.”

The final paragraphs implored students and alumni to utilize their voices and work together to retain the unique advantage the Wolfpack had. Alums could purchase the seats and donate them to the student body.

I posted the column the next morning and could tell right away it was going to do numbers. Players like Jaylen Adams, Denzel Gregg and Marcus Posley “retweeted” it almost immediately, as did former Bona forward Demetrius Conger.

Over 100 people joined the players by retweeting or “favoriting” the original tweet with the article, while some others shared it in their own tweet. It was soon on Facebook and the Bona Bandwagon message board, quickly becoming the Intrepid’s most-read piece ever.

People were as angry reading it as I was writing it. They sent it to Kenney via Twitter and email, demanding answers.

Those answers would come in the days, weeks and months to come.

Kenney would explain in an online Q&A on GoBonnies.com that the seats were a way for SBU to act on the Atlantic 10’s emphasis on controlling the court surface and the safety of players, coaches, officials and spectators. The VCU court-storming in February 2015 had sparked some discussion, as players and coaches were not able to quickly exit the arena. In a town hall-style meeting in September, Kenney revealed that Bona had protested the A-10’s original solution, which was to fine schools $5,000 for storming the court. “We already have money problems as it is,” he said. A barrier was suggested and turned down, as he said he didn’t want the students to look like “caged animals.”

A year later, in hindsight, Kenney’s solution was a smart one. All 48 seats were sold at $710 a person, and 14 of the 24 chairs in front of the student section were allocated to the students.

Not only did the seats bring in cash, with a fair compromise to the Wolfpack, they also proved to be a non-issue during the season. No one threw the chairs onto the court like Bobby Knight, as I had jokingly suggested in my column. There weren’t any major incidents between the students and the seat holders; the focus was on the hoops, not the sidelines.

I wrote a few follow-up columns after the first one as more information started to come in, and learned a lot along the way.

I don’t regret writing the original, as the decision had come with little to no explanation and the entire fanbase was shellshocked. If I had stopped there despite more information coming out, however, I would have resigned myself to being a hack columnist with very little accountability. Instead, the follow-ups were more fair and open-minded, applauding the athletic department for having better communication and telling students and alumni to give the new administration time.

After meeting Kenney upon returning to school last fall, I quickly realized he was the right man for the job. He greeted me with a warm handshake and joked with me about the column, making it clear he held no grudges. We watched some SBU soccer games together (including an overtime thriller in the freezing rain) and talked about his vision for Bonnies athletics. Now, I go to him first with questions about a decision he has made or is in the process of making. Building that relationship was important for a student writer like me.

Today, 366 days after my column on the biggest offseason controversy in my time at Bonaventure (leap year), the uproar seems like ancient history. A video board is under construction in the RC, a court redesign is in the works and Adidas is now the official outfitter of all 16 D-I teams.

What a difference a year makes.

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