The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

May 13, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Huggins believes facility upgrades will revitalize WVU basketball

MORGANTOWN — It was almost an afterthought, albeit a well-thought-out afterthought, Bob Huggins was about to deliver.

The beleaguered men’s basketball coach at West Virginia — and he is beleaguered considering his record has slipped to .500 over the past three seasons and players have been exiting his program on a regular basis — had hastily gathered the media on Saturday morning to offer a state of the union address.

The message was that things remained “fine” with the program and that he was “excited” about the upcoming season, despite the departure of guards Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, and the impended departure of Remi Dibo to return to his native France to play professionally.

After delivering that message and seemingly at the end of his presentation, Huggins stopped media beginning to pack up for one final sermon.

“I’m not one of those people who say we need a new arena,” he said. “We don’t need a new arena, but we do need to do some things — and I think some significant things — in the Coliseum,” Huggins said.

Recently, WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck laid out plans for $106 million in capital improvements within the athletic department, but the first priority was within the cash cow that is the football program … building a new team room and making improvement at Milan Puskar Stadium on concourses, entrances and exits, concessions and rest rooms and LED video boards.

Luck also indicated that much work had to be done at the Coliseum on widening concourses, adding restrooms, and improving and expanding concession sites, but while laying that out Luck avoided promising luxury suites in the building, something Huggins believes to be a top priority.

Huggins even went so far as to hold up a brochure showing luxury suits elsewhere as he envisioned them, but hedged when asked whether there was a timetable for their construction.

“It is, at the very least, a very hot topic in the conversation,” Huggins said.

Huggins was adamant that basketball needed to have the Coliseum makeover if it was to return to national prominence in the sport on a regular basis.

“If we really want to move forward, if we really want to become a national presence on a yearly basis, (the upgrades) need to happen,” Huggins said. “Otherwise we’re going to continue to be pretty much what we are. Can we be really good sometimes? Yeah. Can we do it on a consistent basis without (the upgrades)?”

The Coliseum, in truth, has held up well over the years, and it is now midway through its fifth decade.

“The reality is the Coliseum is 44 years old and has never really had a makeover,” Huggins said, a statement that is somewhat misleading, for it has had its upgrades over the years, the latest a decade ago and of such a magnitude that is still is bragged upon in the school’s online description of the facility.

“The upgrades that took place in 2004 included: renovations to the men’s basketball locker room, renovations to the women’s basketball locker room, construction of a players’ lounge and team video theater, expansion of the Coliseum strength and conditioning center, expansion of the equipment room and training room, and refurbishment of the Coliseum roof,” it reads.

That was mostly for players’ comfort and to help in recruiting.

There was work done to benefit the fan, too.

“Construction of a club seating area in the main arena was completed, with private space for concessions, hospitality areas and rest rooms under the lower level seats,” the description continued.

“Starting in 2008, state-of-the-art score/video boards complete with high resolution video and expanded messaging capabilities became part of the fan experience at the Coliseum.

“A partnership between the WVU Foundation and Panasonic allowed the global electronics maker to install two video board systems — one in the Coliseum and one in the football stadium.

“The system, valued at approximately $5 million, was made available to WVU in part through a generous commitment from alumnus Ben Statler and his wife Jo, and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous.”

That is not to say that a decade later the Coliseum isn’t in need of modernizing with the focus on the fans, important because whether or not Huggins wants to admit it, attendance is falling, dropping from 12,377 for the Final Four team to 8,575 last year.

That’s a decline of approximately 31 percent.

One of the major complaints is parking, so perhaps a portion of the available $106 million might be spent on a multi-level parking garage to help ease the parking situation at the Coliseum, although that at this time is not part of the proposal.

Huggins says that social media is a driving force behind the necessity to make over the Coliseum for recruiting purposes.

“We need to modernize, because you’ve got guys going to different places and taking pictures and Tweeting them,” Huggins said. “Don’t think that those things don’t play into (recruiting). … We need to do some things. In fact, we need to do a lot of things.”

There is, of course, an irony of sitting in the three-year-old, $24-million palace of a basketball practice facility and asking for another major investment, and Huggins certainly was aware of that.

“This facility here is phenomenal,” he said, “and it’s been very well-received by everyone who came in here.”

But he sees the practice facility as a beginning, not an end, to modernizing the basketball facilities.

“I’m happy that Oliver has been able to secure the money needed to do that, and we need it bad,” he said. “I’m very happy that we have secured funds that a good portion of, I would hope, would end up where it’s supposed to go — in the basketball program.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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