The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

April 10, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Spring sports ‘oasis’ solves two problems

MORGANTOWN — In the midst of Oliver Luck’s Tuesday morning press conference to put forth the details of the $106 million facilities improvement plan, an idea was put forth from the media peanut gallery in the form of a question.

The question was asked in the midst of conversation about expanding the parking area around the Coliseum, an admitted problem by the athletic director and one that well might be part of why attendance has fallen at men’s basketball games over the past few years.

The suggestion/question was whether any thought had been given to moving both the outdoor track and tennis courts — each marked as in need of major renovation — from their current location considering that they eat up a lot of space in the Coliseum complex.

The track is in need of a major resurfacing and certainly could be more pleasing to the eye, while the tennis courts, as hard as this is to believe, are not of regulation size.

Instead of just making the fixes on both facilities, would it not be a wonderful idea to turn the baseball stadium project at the University Towne Centre into a spring sports oasis that included the baseball stadium, tennis courts and an outdoor track of such quality that it could proudly host Big 12 and regional meets?

That, along with the eventual destruction of Hawley Field, WVU’s long-time baseball home also located in the Coliseum complex, would open up a full-sized parking area that would solve one of most important problems the school faces.

Luck, however, indicated there was no interest in such an idea/suggestion/plan.

“At this point, not really. We purchased something like nine acres for the ballpark and that will take up about 7.2 acres,” Luck said. “That (area) already is and will become a better retail complex up there. I’m sure University Towne Centre doesn’t want to give us free land for track and field and other venues.”

I’m not certain how much additional land an outdoor track and tennis complex would take up, but certainly in that vast area there is land that could be made available and — A. You don’t know if they’d give it to you and B. If you have found a way to come up $106 million, one suspects there’s a way through the Big 12 bonanza payout that you could come up with more to create something that could improve your standing in the Big 12 and be used by your students.

“I’m sure it’s something we can look at, but at this point we don’t have any plays to remove anyone else but the baseball team,” Luck said, arguing that perhaps we are underestimating the land needed for such a project. “It takes a lot of land to fulfill the needs for track and field.”

Track and field and tennis, of course, are non-revenue sports, which is understood, but they also are major sports in the Big 12. The other day on Facebook, TCU displayed a picture of its crowd at a tennis match, which was impressive, and certainly the track teams out of Texas and Oklahoma and schools throughout the Southwest always are among the nation’s best.

While WVU has only women’s track and tennis teams — I will not get into reverse Title IX talk at the moment — it must be remembered that dropping the men’s teams came at a time when there was far less revenue flow into the athletic department, and the resurrection of both is not an impossibility after the facilities are improved and paid off.

Certainly track has a strong history at West Virginia and deserves far better than what it has, even with a resurfaced track, and at present the tennis team is a non-entity that currently possesses a 3-16 record with an 0-8 Big 12 record, having lost 4-3 to Kansas, then not winning a single point in the next seven matches … being outscored 46-0.

An upgraded tennis facility could do nothing but improve recruiting for a team that is in desperate need of it.

It just seems that such spring sports oasis would give WVU another showcase to go along with whatever improvements bring Milan Puskar Stadium and the Coliseum up to speed and add to a relatively new soccer stadium — with its proposed visiting locker room — a top-of-the-line basketball facility, women’s soccer facility, gymnastics facility and wrestling facility.

If it could do that while creating adequate parking to go with adequate bathroom space at the Coliseum, WVU’s athletic department would have a facilities package that ranks with anyone in college sports.

Luck leaves no doubt how important the parking situation is.

“We do want to make sure that parking — which is not a very attractive subject to talk about with a lot of folks, but any sports venue without adequate parking becomes a white elephant very quickly. We’re seeing it a little bit in football as our medical complex grows,” he said.

“That’s great, because the medical complex will drive the economy here in Morgantown, but as they build there the parking becomes a real premium. That’s a reason we want to set away some money.

“The university is adding 400-and-some parking spots with their Evansdale renovation and we anticipate most, if not all of those, will be available to basketball fans.”

Since the football improvements are the only ones on the front burner, it would be nice to see if they might not at least consider something along that line, and study cost and effect.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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