Thursday, April 29, 2010

What a Difference One Year Makes at UNO

One year ago, UNO took a chance on Trev Alberts, and oh, what a difference one year makes.  At the time, UNO was hiring their fourth athletic director this decade.  The athletic department was seemingly rudderless and still paralyzed from the mismanagement of Nancy Belck and Jim Buck.

Now look at the Mavs:
  • Mike Kemp stepped aside and Dean Blais, who won two national championships with North Dakota is now the head coach.
  • UNO drew a crowd of 13,417 to a game against Ohio State and ranked fourth nationally in attendance.
  • UNO switched conferences, leaving the CCHA for the WCHA.
  • UNO made a strong push in February to get into NCAA tournament contention, featuring a sweep of Michigan, followed by upsets of #1 Miami and top-ten Bemidji State.
  • And there is the expectation that sometime in the next few weeks, UNO will announce plans to build their own facility somewhere near Ak-Sar-Ben.
Not bad for a guy with no previous experience in athletics administration; certainly the people who forecast "an instant death blow" to UNO hockey were proven wrong.  But there is much more remaining to be done. For starters, not having a mid-season swoon that effectively scuttled UNO's chances to make noise in March. UNO's marketing, while improved, still needs to work to restore UNO hockey's place in the local sports market.  Game presentation improved, even if the answer this season was to fire the band rather than work with the Music department to create a true pep band.  (Hint: Wisconsin could teach UNO a thing or two about pep bands.)

UNO is supposedly getting close to announcing plans for a new hockey arena, likely around Chili Greens.  I'm sure the plans are just about finished and are out for approvals at this point, but if they aren't finalized, here are a few thoughts.
  • Size should be more than 8,000 initially, and preferably closer to 10,000.  If the funding isn't there to do 10,000, then there should be a plan to expand to that point.  I understand the desire to build something more intimate, but don't undersell this market.  UNO sold out 8314 seats initially; if you believe Dean Blais is going to do something special, I don't see why you would build anything smaller than that.
  • Student section should be located directly behind the visiting goalie for two periods. Ensure there is plenty of room for students, and this section should have bleachers and general admission seating.  Put the band there as well.  You want students to stand, cheer, and harass the goalie.  That is a GOOD thing, mind you.
  • A low metal ceiling optimized to echo crowd noise. Omaha has the Qwest Center for concerts; we don't need a second arena with sound baffling.
  • In all likelihood, the name of the building will go to a donor or local business who contributes a large sum of money to build it.  That's fine, and to be expected in today's world. But the building should pay homage to the place where Omaha's hockey tradition flourished.  The Omaha Knights started the tradition, and the Omaha Lancers restored when they moved to the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum.  The Coliseum is but a memory now, but the name should live on.  UNO should not build an "Arena" or an antiseptic "Center", but rather a 21st Century "Coliseum", especially when it's so close to the original Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum.
It's been quite a year for UNO, and frankly, I have every expectation that the next year could be even better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great year for UNO and Alberts. Looks like the same things that happened with the ORoyals the past 24 months as well. Good things happening in the Omaha sports scene.