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Please don’t skip a season at The Pete

03/13/2013

Pete Mathews Coliseum, better known around campus as simply “The Pete”, is home to Gamecock basketball and volleyball, among other things.

While the women’s basketball team had a season that described as struggling would be putting it lightly, the Gamecock men’s basketball team is coming off what record-wise could be considered the second best season in the program’s division 1 history, and volleyball is a steady OVC contender each year.

There have been talks lately that renovations, possibly major renovations or rebuilds, could be in the somewhat near future for the coliseum. Built in 1974, there’s no doubt that “The Pete” is well overdue for some 21st century upgrades, with the last major ones coming in 1987. It’s the third oldest arena in the Ohio Valley Conference behind just Alumni Arena (1963) at EKU and Lantz Arena (1967) at EIU.

Talks among university officials are hardly in the serious stage just yet, but Athletic Director Warren Koegel admitted earlier this year that the focus of upgrading the facility was his “number one priority” for athletics in the near future.

This is all great, but the worrying part of all of this is that a major renovation, or as some would suggest, a complete rebuild, would take at least a year to complete and could force the Gamecocks to play an entire season in an alternate location somewhere nearby. Those who have spoken about the possible renovation haven’t seen much of an issue with skipping a year of on-campus home games, for a return of having a brand new modernized arena for years to come following. I however, hope “The Pete”, old or new, doesn’t lose a season.

The men’s basketball program, if admitted or not, is the key focus (as it would be at other schools) on this project. This past season, the men’s program made a turn in the direction the program had been heading. The team finished 17-11, recording the first winning season for the program since the 2005-2006 season, and the most wins in a single season since the 2002-2003 campaign. That’s lightyears ahead of the 5-25 team from just two seasons ago.

Since 1974, the men’s team has a 409-131 record at The Pete, always fueled by a strong, though sometimes scarce, home crowd. Since the new millennium the team has an overall record of 154-227, and 100 of those wins came at home. JSU has always played well at Pete Mathews Coliseum.

In the five seasons from 2006-2010 the program won 43 games, an average of just over eight wins a season. During the last two seasons the team has doubled that, with 32 wins in two seasons, an average of 16 each season. My point is that the program is just beginning to rival being a serious threat each and every year for the OVC title and for even a possible birth in the NCAA tournament.

Fans, the community and students are just getting to where they’re looking forward to the next home game. It may not seem like much, but I’m afraid a year off campus would kill the buzz around the program.

A new arena would attract some early the next season, but what if the team struggled again? Playing a season off campus could possibly cut home attendance by more than half. For a student, heading to The Pete Thursday night is no big deal, but if they have to get in a car and drive even just a few miles, there’s a chance they’d just find something else to do instead.

Cutting the home crowd would kill the atmosphere and really make all home games into neutral court games, giving the edge to the opponent just as much as the Gamecocks. And a bad season like that could hurt recruiting down the road and cause the team to take a step back to where they were in the early 2000s, even if they returned to a new arena.

In writing all this I will admit I know sports, and enough about writing to get the job done, but I claim not to know anything about major construction. However, I feel if a major renovation was to take place, or even a complete rebuild, I would hope the university would do all it could to line up every step of the process and be ready to go as soon as one season ended, go all out for eight months and possibly be done by the following season.

Gamecock basketball needs to stay at The Pete… old or new.

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