There is no doubt that Rob Hernandez is one of the best in the state when it comes to coverage of the WIAA and the overarching issues that affect the state high school sports landscape. But I can't say I always agree with all of his ideas so I thought I'd do a little counterpoint article to his recent piece on the upcoming Board of Control meeting.
In it he talks about summer coaching being the more important issue than moving the girls state tournament. First and foremost I'd like to point out that it's not a one or the other scenario - both issues can be passed. And I completely agree with what he has to say about why it is important to give our coaches more opportunities to work with their basketball players.
The girls basketball tournament thoughts on the other hand, I have some problems with. What the Board of Control will be voting on is a proposal to move the girls basketball tournament back two weeks to their traditional weekend before the boys state tournament.
This would solve many issues that have been caused by the move a few years back to allow the girls to play at the Kohl Center. First and foremost it will shorten what has become a very, very long season. Many girls teams ended up playing one game a week towards the end of the season. Secondly, it will allow conflicts with spring sports and spring breaks to not take away opportunities for fans from around the state to come and watch the state tournament. Not to mention helping out the spring sports coaches who would have to wait longer to start their season if their girls basketball team made it to Madison.
Rob's first argument against this is that the proposal was “pushed” through and the whole process was “handled the wrong way.” While I agree that a straw poll of FVA coaches shouldn't be the deciding factor on how the coaches advisory committee votes, I'm not sure I've talked to a girls coach who doesn't think the current season is too long.
Furthermore, Rob has been a big supporter of the move to 5 divisions, writing articles praising its passing, striking down those that oppose it and claiming it had nothing to do with the poor attendance at state this year. What he doesn't seem to write in any of these articles is how the measure was voted AGAINST by the coaches advisory board and AGAINST by the WIAA Advisory council before being passed unanimously by the board of control. I mean, if we're looking for conspiracy theories, shouldn't we have started there first?
The crux of Rob's argument though is that the Field House is not a suitable place to hold a state tournament, especially if it's just the girls that are playing there (although as he correctly notes, boys could be in jeopardy of not playing in Kohl Center due to Big Ten hockey).
The capacity of the Field House is 11,500. The girls state tournament has never drawn 11,500 fans to a state tournament session. Ever. He mentions that the Field House is not on the wish list for capital improvements but fails to mention the facelift that it got during the 2005 Camp Randall renovation. These included updated restrooms, a new media room and opponent locker rooms on the lower level.
He also says that “once you wipe away the history and tradition of the building, you are left with the same aging facility the WIAA left.” I understand the WIAA left for the Dane County Coliseum, but I think just because they made a decision back then, based on different factors, it doesn't make it a reason for not returning.
Also, how can you just “wipe away” the history and tradition? That's what would make playing the tournaments at the Field House again so great. People have cherished memories of that building and I think the set-up of a more intimate crowd and a more full building will help create new ones. It's just hard to get excited about playing in a cavernous Kohl Center in front of 4,000 people, less than ¼ of the capacity of the building.
So if the Field House has updated locker rooms and enough capacity what is aging about the facility that doesn't make it viable? The only thing I can think of is the lack of a video scoreboard. And the only thing I can think of in regards to this is big hairy deal. Are teams and fans really going to miss it? Is there a video board at the state soccer meet or the state softball tournament? Am I missing something here?
So that is my argument against Rob's column. But I'll go even a step further.
Move the boys tournament back there too.
I know I'm probably the first one on this bandwagon and I doubt too many others will jump on, but why not? The “shot in the arm” that was 5 divisions did the opposite effect to attendance. And I don't see juggling the order or better marketing improving the situation.
This past season just one boys session (D2 Semi-Finals) would have not fit in the Field House. 11 out of 24 sessions the three seasons previous to this one would have been sold out under the Field House scenario.
What's wrong with a sellout though? Wouldn't it make a state tournament ticket something special that you try to get your hands on as soon as possible? Right now everyone can just sit back and make a game time decision since the Kohl Center will never sell out. They can wait to see what teams are there, what time the Badgers play in the NCAA tournament and what the weather is like.
If the Field House sells out this also makes the TV and online broadcasts of the game more popular.
Lastly, let's be honest, when times are hard you have to make tough decisions to save money. I would assume holding the tournaments at the Field House would save a good deal of money to help make up in what has been poor attendence the past two years.
So there you have it. Let's take back the Field House. Let's take back the memories and make new ones. Let's get stability in our basketball postseason.