IOWA CITY, Iowa – Unlike Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Carver-Hawkeye Arena doesn’t have a nickname that suggests something magical happens to help assure success at home.
The atmosphere inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena has been scrutinized and criticized almost since the day it opened in 1983.
Some critics say there is no atmosphere in Carver except for when Iowa does something spectacular. Only then will all the fans stands up cheer.
The good news is that the university will take steps to improve the game-day atmosphere, according to a story published Tuesday in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
Plans are in motion for a pair of renovations to the arena, with the first phase scheduled for this summer. Among the upgrades include a new sound system, a video board over center court, new lights and a new playing court.
A second phase — with an undetermined cost and completion date — includes several exterior upgrades.
“Phase one is really mostly about enhancing the fan experience,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta told the Gazette.
My question is, why stop there?
The renovations that Iowa plans to undertake should help to improve the game-day atmosphere, but still isn’t enough to fix all the problems.
The Iowa men’s basketball team won’t play another game at Carver this season because it is a virtual lock to make the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa is seeded fifth in the Big Ten Tournament and will face the winner of today’s game between Illinois and Minnesota at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The Hawkeyes compiled a 13-2 record at home this season, losing only to Big Ten regular-season champion Indiana and to Wisconsin.
So you argue that Iowa had a home-court advantage this season.
But the atmosphere still could be better and here are a few suggestions to help with that:
Move the Iowa student section to courtside: I’ve been clamoring for this to happen for years. Iowa students deserve preferential treatment because, well, they’re Iowa students.
They should be seated courtside and their section should be laid out horizontally instead of vertically like it is now. The student section should wrap around the court instead of stretching to the top of the arena.
What good is it to have students sitting near the top of the arena anyway?
It’s easier for them to get food at the concessions stands, but that brings up another concern.
The way in which Carver is designed with all the concessions stands on the concourse makes it so those with the best seats near courtside have the most stairs to climb in order to purchase food.
That just doesn’t make sense, considering many of those prime seats are filled by older fans who probably cringe at the thought of walking up and down so many stairs to purchase a $6 pretzel.
Move the students to courtside and let them deal with the stairs. College students are young and filled with energy. They could handle it.
Moving the student section would almost certainly require some reconstruction of the arena. But it wouldn’t have to be a major project.
And it wouldn’t have to come at the expense of the donors who deserve to have quality seats. Have the students and the donors sit on opposite sides of the arena. There is a enough space in the arena for both the students and donors to co-exist peacefully near courtside.
Use walking vendors: This is a pretty simple concept: bring the food to the fans instead of making them climb stairs for concessions. One can only imagine how many purchases Iowa loses because some fans simply don’t want to deal with the hassle of ordering food under the current setup.
Allow students to bring signs to the arena: Iowa has a rule that allows UI students to hold up signs during a game, but only if the sign is made after entering the arena.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow students to already have signs made before entering the arena because that way security could screen them? Any student carrying a sign would have to enter one or two assigned gates where security would be waiting as a check point.
It wouldn’t be that complicated, nor would it be a huge strain on security.
But what a difference it would have on the game-day atmosphere at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which can be sterile at times.
Don’t get me wrong, the fan support has been impressive this season. The arena was as loud as I’ve ever heard it during the second-half comeback against Indiana on March 1.
But while students from most of the other Big Ten schools are allowed to bring all sorts of signs and photos and whatever else might distract the visiting team, Iowa students can only have signs if they make them after arriving at the arena on game day.
That just seems weird and puts Iowa at a disadvantage.
Make the past more recognizable: I’ve never understood why Iowa doesn’t embrace its past more in basketball.
Imagine how cool it would be to have the jerseys of Ronnie Lester and Chris Street displayed prominently in the arena. Lester would be on display for being arguably the greatest player in school history, as well as a class act, while Street’s jersey would inspire fans and remind them of his legacy.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery deserves credit for making the Hawkeyes relevant again. Fan apathy is no longer a problem thanks to his rebuilding job, but there are still problems with the game-day experience at Carver.
What Iowa has planned for renovations is a step in the right direction.
But only a small step.