Iowa’s athletics department remains committed to a $47 million plan to renovate Carver-Hawkeye Arena and add a new practice facility for the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Publicly and privately, athletics personnel and insiders say it’s all or nothing for attaching the new practice facility to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Plans are to have shovels hit the dirt by late summer, with the facility completed in two years. Iowa has more than $8 million in pledged gifts thus far and hopes to gain $20 million for the project. Iowa hopes to retire the debt service with court-side seating, costing major contributors around $100,000.
But what happens if the economic slide continues? Will big-time donors still be able to contribute to Iowa’s elaborate plan if rock bottom is months or years away? Would Iowa consider walking away from this project and risk losing Coach Todd Lickliter if such a downturn occurs?
That’s why Iowa — at least privately — needs a sensible Plan B. And one possibility makes too much sense to ignore.
The campus’ new $70 million recreation center opens in summer 2010. Iowa’s swim teams will move from the aging Field House to an Olympic-caliber pool there. Most campus recreation sports will head to the new building as well.
By fall 2010, the Field House will have an empty pool area, plus the ancient North Gym. Many, if not most, athletes take classes in the Field House, and the building is less than one block from the primary dorms for athletes. Why not fill in the pool, upgrade the gymnasium and turn it into a massive indoor basketball, volleyball and gymnastics facility? It would be a cost-effective and perhaps better option for the university. Freshmen and sophomore basketball players on campus could have easier access to the gym than at one built a mile away at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Everyone acknowledges the current system does not work. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams practice at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, along with the women’s volleyball team. All three, along with the wrestling team, compete in the facility. Iowa’s men’s and women’s gymnastics teams also compete there at times.
Access to Carver-Hawkeye Arena is difficult at best, especially in the overlap period between basketball and volleyball. During a three-day weekend last fall, Iowa hosted two volleyball matches, four women’s basketball games, seven wrestling duals and a men’s basketball game. Iowa moved six wrestling duals to the North Gym, the first time since 1983 Iowa had wrestled in that building. Iowa’s men’s basketball team went to a private gym to practice, while its opponent, Oakland, practiced in the North Gym. Oakland’s coach called the accommodations at the North Gym “Godawful.”
A similar scenario unfolds next week. Iowa’s women’s gymnastics team, which splits its duals between the North Gym and Carver-Hawkeye Arena, will compete in its final home dual at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Iowa and Penn State men’s basketball teams, which compete the following afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, must final an alternative site to practice. That’s going to lead to a few angry basketball coaches.
In a tough economy, perceived need often appears extravagant. Iowa should spare no expense to give its teams an attractive, valuable and long-term practice facility. But Iowa should consider turning the historic venue into a cost-effective solution to this difficult problem. Carver-Hawkeye Arena can — and should — remain the game-day venue for all of Iowa’s winter sports, if the Field House becomes an all-encompassing practice facility. That way, the overlap is manageable.
Uncommon problems often dictate common-sense solutions. Renovating the Field House for the basketball program might help Iowa overcome the congestion at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and save serious money and goodwill in the process. That goes for something in today’s economy.