Williams Arena: Controversy Ongoing
Williams Arena, the sentimental yet flawed
home of Gophers basketball for 81 years, managed to avoid the scrap heap
20 years ago and it might still be around two decades from now but
controversy will define its existence. The University athletic department is
spending $600,000 on a new floor this spring, the latest in millions of
dollars in renovations that have been allocated to improve the building
that’s one of the oldest college basketball facilities in the country.
Gophers athletic director
Joel Maturi, 64, told Sports Headliners
the “reality” is that the building will have to be replaced or
significantly renovated 10 to 15 years into the future. “It won’t happen
during my time,” he said.
Rick Bay became Gophers athletic director in 1989 he consulted
with Jim Dutcher who coached the Gophers basketball team
for 11 seasons before resigning in 1986. The two had become friends
when both worked at the University of Michigan.
“When he came to town he wanted my take on
the significance of Williams Arena,” Dutcher said. “He knew that there
was a lot of emotion attached to it and there were some expensive
remodeling and updating (that) had to be done. …My view was I said, ‘It
might be a good time, Rick, just to go for a brand new arena.’
“He knew the emotion attached to Williams
Arena and he kind of hesitated about that, but I said that from a
recruiting standpoint and updating your facilities there comes a time
when the emotion of an old building gives way to a new facility whether
it’s Carver-Hawkeye (Iowa), or the new arena at Ohio State, or the new
arena at the Kohl Center in Madison.
“There comes a time when you have to step
up and keep up with the competition. If you’re going to put money into
an old facility, now might be the time to consider that. I don’t know
how seriously he considered it but they went ahead and remodeled
Remodeling has included installing chair
back seats, creating suites (“barn lofts”) and locker room renovation.
As part of the process to make the 81 year old building more functional
and compliant with safety codes, seating capacity has been reduced by
about 3,000 from what it was 30 years ago.
The arena isn’t as noisy now days. Not
only are there fewer fans but they are, on average, older than in the
wild days of the 1970s when the place was jumpin’ even before tipoff.
The basketball product was in decline for years until Tubby Smith
came two years ago and once in awhile now when the building is full and
a Michigan State or Wisconsin is in town Williams Arena is a special
place once again.
Long mentioned in the same breath with
college basketball’s most historic facilities, Williams Arena is an
intimate venue with a rarity seldom seen, a raised playing floor.
That playing surface is part of the building’s enigma. A fall from the
raised floor by a player poses a potential danger not present in other
buildings, yet fans regard the floor as part of the building’s charm.
Spectators sitting down low and near the court, even those paying premium prices,
can’t see part of the game when coaches and referees block their views.