Friday, April 03, 2009

Shatel Has Some Really Good Ideas (& A Really Bad One) for UNO

Tom Shatel, in the printed editions of today's World-Herald, laid out some ideas for UNO. Some of his ideas sync up with my thoughts from earlier this week; some don't. And one in particular is simply horrible.

First thing? Hire a strong leader with a vision, local ties, and let him run. Check.
Next thing? Get an identity and vision for UNO. Check.
Names to suggest? Many of the names we've already heard suggested: Creighton's Mike West, Mike Kemp, plus Mike Moran of the US Olympic Committee and Pat Behrns.

He suggests Kemp might be better suited as the associate athletic director for hockey. An interesting suggestion, but I'm not sure that more administration is the answer for UNO. Besides that, having Kemp in charge and focused on the hockey program, but not coaching, could be uncomfortable for Kemp's successor as head coach. It would be different if Kemp were named athletic director, as he'd have to spread his attention to all sports, not just hockey.

But the worst idea of all? Spending $18 million (or more) to somehow "renovate" the Civic Auditorium and move UNO back. I understand Shatel's nostalgic thoughts about the Civic, but I think UNO's recent history at the Civic is distorting his perspective. You simply can't compare the crowd that shows up for Western Michigan at the Qwest Center with the crowd that shows up for Michigan, Ohio State, or Notre Dame at the Civic. By luck of the draw, UNO has had to play some of their biggest games of recent seasons at the Civic due to the state wrestling tournament.

I remember that last season at the Civic in 2002-03, and the cracks were already starting to form. Empty seats were common then too, and the running joke was asking how much UNO was spending to keep the sellout streak alive, even though only 6000 fans were actually in attendance on a good night. The "Red Army" was formed that season, in a revolt against "the tyranny of silence" in the Civic. That's right. The poor atmosphere in the Civic Auditorium. (Ask the folks with the Omaha Aksarben Knights how well promoting the Civic as a venue worked for them...)

Now you want to spend $18 million to put lipstick on the pig? What does that do for the auditorium? Suites, club seating, etc. And where, pray tell, are you putting suites in the Auditorium? I assure you that the only way to "expand" the Civic is to raise the roof off. I had to be careful when celebrating a UNO goal in my old seats at the Civic, as it was too easy to hit the beams supporting the roof. Adding suites above the existing third bowl is likely to be impractical, which means that suites would likely eliminate existing seating.

So for $18 million, you get some of the amenities that fans demand...but limit capacity to 6500 or so fans. And it's still far away from campus, without practice ice. It limits downtown redevelopment opportunities. And once you spend $18 million downtown, the dream of a campus facility gets pushed back another 20 years or more. Which everybody else seems to agree is the ultimate answer.

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