116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
(Note: Sam Paxton is a Marshalltown native, a University of Iowa graduate and copy editor at The Gazette)
Requiem for a basketball arena, Part 1: THE CARVER PIT
Hawkeye fans, we have a Carver problem.
That's what we've been hearing for years, at least from the program's most vocal fans, often found roaming the myriad message boards around the Internet.
It's too quiet.
The older fans who keep the program afloat — not the students — often populate the best seats close to the court. Hence, fans that want to stand get told to sit.
The in-game atmosphere lacks something to be desired, and desperately needs a shot of adrenaline (pretty simple solution, really ... send a few guys over to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa State and take some notes. And a new mixtape isn't that expensive, people. There are other CDs in the world besides 'Jock Jams').
Worst of all, students appear to be staying home, leaving a big, ugly swath of empty seats (mostly representing prepaid but unused student season tickets) that many fans — who can be seen on game days getting turned away at the box office — would happily scoop up if they could only get inside.
Most importantly, as Carver-Hawkeye Arena wraps up its 33rd season of Hawkeye basketball, the once state-of-the-art venue is in desperate need of a makeover.
Therein lies the problem. And because of its design, it's not an easy fix.
The court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena fits at the bottom of a giant bowl, built to encompass a gigantic hole in the ground, with its concourse and entrances/exits built at street level. There is no middle concourse dividing the arena into a top level and a bottom level, so if you want to grab a chocolate/raspberry twist cone or go to the restroom, it will require a 42-row climb if you've snagged one of those coveted courtside seats.
Plus, there's been wishful thinking about adding some suites for the school's biggest benefactors, but where are you going to build them?
Where do we look for ideas and inspiration? Well, there's a pretty obvious place. A place that was used for inspiration when the arena was conceived of from the very beginning over 35 years ago.
Ladies and gentlemen ...
(Before I say it, here's a pre-emptive request to not get your shorts in a twist ...)
... it's the Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
Hear me out:
Back in 1979, when building a new arena was still in the preliminary stages, a group consisting of longtime athletics director Bump Elliott and Dr. Christine Grant (the women's director of athletics), along with then-basketball coaches Lute Olson and Lark Birdsong, toured venues across the country. Because the location for what would become Carver had been determined, using the template that the Pit had utilized so successfully was a no-brainer.
'We already had a valley or gully and the costs were less, so the arena seemed to fit in there well,' Elliott said in 2008 during the 25th anniversary celebration. 'It has a great atmosphere. All the action is down below and you were closer to the court.'
Well, it's time to follow the Pit's lead once again.
• It's built at ground level and uses a bowl configuration, just like Carver.
• It seats around 15,400, just like Carver.
• It's loud, just like Carver used to be.
• It's one of the most well-regarded arenas in the nation, hosting the NCAA Tournament 10 times, including one of the most famous Final Fours ever in 1983, when Jim Valvano's North Carolina State team upset the 'Phi Slamma Jamma' Houston Cougars.
In 2009, the Pit underwent a massive renovation, adding club seats and luxury suites. Just a quick look at some of the photos, and the Pit's renovations make too much sense when it comes to a possible revitalization of Carver.
And it begins and ends with fixing one thing, something that's been an issue for years: replacing the long-problematic roof, damaged in the April 2006 tornado that ravaged Iowa City.
That's where you start. During renovation, the roof could be elevated as needed, creating more space that could be freed up to build club seats and luxury suites that ring the top of the arena. Those become prime real estate for the whales that love giving their money to the university.
Plus, it finally could become possible to hang a snazzy new digital scoreboard over center court.
After that, you gut one corner section behind each basket and designate them as standing room only. Speaking only for myself, I don't like sitting at games; these seats would absolutely be desirable to me. No one telling me to sit down? Yeah, that works.
In fact, bleachers could be the answer for a few of the sections behind the baskets. To this very day, there are still several vocal fans clamoring for a return to the deafening days of the Iowa Field House. Isn't this one way to make things noisy again — pounding your feet on metal bleachers just like at Kinnick Stadium?
Finally, maybe it's time to make an elevator and some restrooms available in the tunnels at court level for some of our senior fans. This kind of thing might help alleviate the 'beat the traffic' mentality of people surrounding the concourse in the final minutes of games.
The University of New Mexico had a solid plan with the Pit. Take a look at the attached photos. The UI administration should study it. Replicate it. Hire the same architect from New Mexico, even if it's just as consultants.
And fans, don't let the fact that the Pit's renovation happened under Steve Alford's watch sour you on it. It was a formidable arena for 40 years before he got there, after all. And it would be a lie to say the man was wrong when he said the University of Iowa's basketball facilities were in need of a serious upgrade when he was here. In fact, Todd Lickliter wasn't wrong, either. Or Tom Davis. Or Lute Olson before them all.
The beautiful new practice facility was a perfect start. Time to finish it. Tear the roof off the sucka and the rest of the problems just falls like dominoes.
Now we just need $50 or 60 million to make it happen. Piece of cake, right?
Hey, I'm just the idea man, not the money man.
Requiem for a basketball arena, Part 2: BANNERS, BANNERS EVERYWHERE!
Pauley Pavilion, the home of the UCLA men's basketball team, flies only 11 banners celebrating its illustrious history as one of the pre-eminent blue bloods of college basketball.
You know how many men's hoops banners hang from the rafters at Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
You guessed it ... 34. And a 35th banner will be added by the time you return to the arena next November.
The way UCLA sees it, their 11 national championship banners are all that matter. No banners hang for the Bruins' many Pac-8/Pac-10/Pac-12 titles, their other Final Four appearances (you know, the annoying ones that didn't result in championships), or, God forbid, their 1985 NIT championship.
Let's bring it closer to home: Big Ten rival Indiana, another blue blood. The Hoosiers fly their five national championship flags at one end of Assembly Hall. At the other end hangs a pair of banners celebrating Big Ten titles and Final Four appearances, with the corresponding year merely added when a team meets that criteria.
Meanwhile, Iowa flies four Big Ten title banners — three of which occurred before the advent of the NCAA Tournament and another for a year they were left out of the then-more exclusive field despite the conference co-crown (1968) — in addition to 23 more (soon to be 24!) representing each of their NCAA Tournament appearances, regardless of finish (some of which combine their other four Big Ten regular season championships, the last of which happened in 1979, and two Big Ten Tournament championships, the last of which happened in 2006).
Most frustratingly, they ALL lack any specificity. For example, the 1987 banner — celebrating the only Hawkeye squad to win 30 games in a season and achieve a No. 1 ranking for a spell with a memorable, if not beloved, appearance in the Elite Eight — says only 'NCAA Tournament.' It hangs not far from a banner for the 2005 team, which went 21-12 and finished seventh in the Big Ten with a 7-9 record, sneaked into the tournament with a 10-seed and got eliminated in the first round by double digits. That banner, too, says only 'NCAA Tournament.'
And maybe worst of all, they also fly seven banners for their NIT appearances, including for one-and-dones in 1998, 2002 and 2004 (in contrast, Indiana and UCLA don't even hang solo banners for their NIT championships, in 1979 and 1985, respectively).
Iowa basketball should not pretend it's something that it's not. They've had a proud, solid program with a competitive history of winning that should be celebrated, for sure, but it's time to consolidate.
Now, because of the expanding of the NCAA field over the years, it gets more difficult to argue which round is which. The Hawks didn't have to play until the round of 32 in both 1979 and 1981 because of byes earned in the smaller fields. But they were upset in their openers both years, so they didn't actually win a game in tournament play. On the flip side, in 2014, they were beaten in the play-in First Four round, not even qualifying for the field of 64. But it still rates as a tournament appearance.
The solution? Dumb it down.
Once you make it to the tournament's second weekend, you get special designation. If you don't? 'NCAA Tournament,' it is.
This might not be easy to hear for die-hard Hawkeye fans, but Iowa needs to follow Iowa State's lead in this case. In Hilton Coliseum, the Cyclones hang banners for seven categories — conference titles, conference tournament titles, NIT appearances, NCAA appearances (i.e. first or second round), Sweet 16 appearances, Elite Eight appearances, and Final Four appearances. Basically, they follow the Indiana model and just add the year to each respective banner when a worthy team earns it.
With that, Iowa easily could replace 35 smaller banners with seven bigger and badder versions, designating the following:
• Big Ten Champs: 1923, 1926, 1945, 1955, 1956, 1968, 1970, 1979
• Big Ten Tournament Champs: 2001, 2006
• NIT: 1995, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2012, 2013 (Finalist)
• NCAA Tournament (first weekend — round-of-32 squads in bold): 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2014, 2015
• NCAA Sweet 16: 1970, 1983, 1988, 1999
• NCAA Elite Eight: 1987
• NCAA Final Four: 1955, 1956, 1980 (if they want a separate banner for the 1956 finalists, the fans could probably live with that. Iowa State doesn't fly one because they don't HAVE one).
You could follow the same model for our women's basketball team, as well. Vivian Stringer, Angie Lee and Lisa Bluder have given Iowa fans plenty to celebrate there, too.
As for the wrestlers ... yeah, let's leave those the same. Row after row of banners emblazoned with 'Big Ten Champions / NCAA Champions' is truly an intimidating sight to behold, doubling up UCLA basketball if they chose to use the Bruins' 'national champs only' model. Wow.
Requiem for a basketball arena, Part 3: THE RETIRED NUMBERS CONUNDRUM
There currently may be clutter in the form of banners in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Let's clear it out and make room for the great Hawkeyes of the past who deserve their due.
Roy Marble, Iowa's all-time leading scorer and one of the most beloved players in program history, was recognized for his contributions to the program during a much-too-quick halftime ceremony in Iowa's 2015 home finale. I won't get into the fact that he was handed a framed 2006 Doug Thomas jersey (also a 23) instead of an era-appropriate version of his own No. 23. Or the fact that a highlight reel of many of his dazzling dunks and fast-break moves wasn't prepared. Or the fact that his coach, Tom Davis, or any of his teammates were not on hand due to short notice. Or the fact that he wasn't allowed to speak.
Those are moot points for this discussion (but make no mistake, we all noticed). Anyway ...
What is important is that Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta has made it clear that in the future, no numbers will be retired. Instead, a 'wall of honor' will be erected inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena celebrating the great players in the program's history, much like the one that now adorns the press box facade at Kinnick Stadium.
It's a solid plan. The numbers don't need to be retired, just the player. The Marble incident just feels like a slight because the wall isn't actually up yet.
In fact, let's go a step a further: Currently, the Hawkeyes recognize nine retired numbers:
In 1980, the athletics department retired the numbers of all five members of Iowa's back-to-back Final Four teams from 1955 and 1956 (Carl Cain, No. 21; Bill Seaberg, No. 22; Bill Logan, No. 31; Bill Schoof, No. 33; and Sharm Scheuerman, No. 46).
That same year, the team retired Ronnie Lester's No. 12 during the senior guard's final home game (yes, he was still on the team when they retired his number, meaning the 1980 run to the Final Four hadn't even happened yet).
In 1985, center Greg Stokes had his No. 41 retired after becoming the school's all-time leading scorer.
Then, after winning a pair of NBA titles with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, guard B.J. Armstrong had his No. 10 'retired,' even though current Hawkeye point guard Mike Gesell wears that number today. It would appear that Armstrong is actually the first recipient of the Marble treatment, except his recognition was called something different in 1992 by the previous athletics department regime.
There's a solution. One that should make everyone happy, and it's based on the one remaining retired number:
No. 40 — Chris Street.
In Iowa football history, there are only two actual retired numbers: Nile Kinnick's No. 24 and Calvin Jones' No. 62. These two players, along with Street, had two things tragically in common.
Talented players. Died way too young.
The criteria for both programs should line up.
Keep Street's No. 40 retired. Put every other number back in circulation, while hanging the already honored jerseys from the rafters or on this 'wall of fame.'
The 'Fabulous Five' of 1955-56 could be so honored with a banner all their own. Marble and Armstrong can now be joined as teammates side by side forever (on a personal note, here's hoping Ed Horton can someday join them).
Then you can start honoring the forgotten players of the '40s (Herb Wilkerson, Dick Ives and Murray Weir), the '60s (Sam Williams and NBA legend Don Nelson), the '70s (John Johnson, 'Downtown' Fred Brown and Kevin Kunnert), the '90s (Acie Earl, Andre Woolridge and Jess Settles) and, someday down the road, the 2000s (Reggie Evans, Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska). And let's save a spot for the man on his way to becoming the Ed Podolak of Hawkeye basketball, '80s great Bobby Hansen.
But you don't need to take a number out of circulation to do it. Much like No. 7 for Hawkeye football (worn by the likes of all-world punter Reggie Roby, clutch kicking legend Rob Houghtlin, two-time all-Big Ten quarterback Matt Rodgers, Heisman Trophy runner-up Brad Banks, and top receiver Marvin McNutt), the idea of a number being passed down by the greats is a very appealing concept, especially since basketball numbers are more difficult to come by than the 1-to-99 model for football.
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