It has been a long, difficult 100 days for the University of Toledo's athletic department.
Starting with Scooter McDougle and the FBI and an alleged gambling scandal that now rests in legal limbo, continuing with an in-house inquiry that has scuttled and/or discredited a longtime NCAA faculty rep and a respected team physician, dismissal of a department employee who is self-portrayed as a financial watchdog, allegations of improper travel and expenses by coaches and others, and with a school president who is new to athletic oversight and is either extremely naive or extremely savvy, the mood in UT's athletic department for the last 100 days has been about as dark and dingy as, well, Savage Hall.
So you had to excuse athletic director Mike O'Brien and other staffers for the glee they exhibited yesterday when unveiling the renderings for the renovation of the school's 31-year-old arena. For one hour of one day, at least, it was business as usual, and a pleasant business at that.
The renovation is a $30 million project and $27 million has been accounted for based on the university's commitment, private gifts and pledges. When the project is completed in time for the 2008-09 basketball season the arena will have 12 private suites. Six have already been reserved.
"Our fan base has not wavered whatsoever, and I salute them for that," O'Brien said.
That is something for UT to celebrate considering its athletic affairs have been front-page news, which, unless the stories deal with championships or bowl wins, is not necessarily a good thing. And these stories have not dealt with championships or bowl wins.
So the fan base may be more interested in 10,800 square feet of new locker room, meeting room and lounge space, a sports medicine facility that will be three times larger than what currently exists, suites and loge seating, a Varsity T Hall of Fame area, a new merchandise shop, new rest rooms, new seats, premium courtside club seats, a new scoreboard, etc., etc.
Basketball coach Stan Joplin was a UT player when what was then called Centennial Hall opened in 1976 and he recalls it was "one of the best facilities around at that time." The operative words: at that time.
Savage Hall is now a dreary old building with inadequate locker facilities and weight training space and office space and little in the way of fan amenities. Check out newer arenas at places like Ball State, Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Xavier and you'll see what we mean as to just how far UT has fallen behind the schools it recruits against.
"This will be a great shot in the arm," Joplin said.
The renderings are indeed those of a first-class sports venue. And they include an exterior view of the project's second phase, a long-overdue indoor practice facility for football and other outdoor sports. The tentative completion date for that part is the end of 2009.
Exterior work on the west side of the arena, which will include the new main entrance and lobby area, will begin this fall but will not disrupt the 2007-08 basketball or volleyball seasons. When the last fan leaves after the last basketball game next March, contractors will move in and all work is expected to be done by the following November. It's a big task in a short time frame, but it can't be accomplished too soon for the Rockets.
"We've been waiting a long time for this day," O'Brien said.
Not to mention waiting about 100 days for some good news.
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