Like everyone else, I was excited to see the pictures and videos from inside the "new" Sun Dome yesterday. I spent an awful lot of evenings and afternoons in the old version of that building, and even back then it desperately needed the work that it's getting now. We've complained about the unexplained delays and the reluctance to show off any renderings or designs of the building until it was nearly finished. At the same time, though, you can't really argue with a new building when it's finished. It's the final piece of the athletics village that's been in the works for several years -- along with a new soccer stadium, a new baseball stadium, a new softball stadium, a dining hall, the Muma facility, updated football practice facilities -- and it will likely be Doug Woolard's prime achievement whenever he decides to end his time at USF.
I was equally as excited to hear that Stan Heath is already looking for a "marquee" opponent to come in and open up the Sun Dome in November. I've been hoping USF would have a chance to improve its nonconference home schedule for several years. Of course, what name-brand team would have risked visiting Tampa before now to play a no-win game? Heath and Woolard have done a pretty good job finding under-the-radar teams to come to town, the kind that end up being worthy competition without having a name that sells tickets. But ever since football hit it semi-big, there hasn't been a reason to pay attention to basketball games until at least the middle of January. USF finally has a chance to change that, not only because of the building, but because of their success this past season.
More on that last point at the end, but first a few other things:
-- I'm pretty sure the only people happier to see this happen than Woolard are Heath, Jose Fernandez, and Claire Lessinger. This renovation impacted all three indoor sports, and all of them can return to their normal homes this fall.
-- Joe Henderson's Tribune column with all his tidbits from the early days of the Sun Dome is a howl. I knew the construction process was completely FUBARed, but I had no idea they opened the building with seats missing and stuff. Lends credence to Gary and Collin's "Indian burial ground" theory.
-- Greg Auman (who should ask his bosses for a phone with a better digital camera) caught my favorite random part of the whole renovation story from yesterday. The player on the video board in the artist's rendering of the finished arena is... Ryan Kardok. WUT.
-- I am really intrigued by the idea of the student club and hope the details sound as good as the concept. I wonder if the whole Courtside Cabana from the last two years of the "old" building led to this idea. As long as they boot everyone out while the game's going on so they don't all hang out there like they do with the pirate ship at football games, instead of being at their seats making noise.
-- Speaking of the students, while all of us writers have fond memories of sitting in the sideline seats when we were enrolled, I think it's for the best that all the student seating will be consolidated behind one of the baskets. (I know I read this somewhere yesterday, but I haven't found it again.) There aren't a whole lot of places where students get sideline seats, and having their sections pockmarked all over the building really diluted their potential impact on the game. It should be fun to see visiting teams deal with a wall of noise during crunch time.
-- Finally, I've been thinking about whether a new building alone can bring fans back. My theory is that all other things being equal (like location), fans are more willing to see a good team in a bad facility, up to a point, than they are to see a bad team in a good facility. You can already see the bloom coming off the rose with the new baseball stadium, because the team isn't that much better than they were at the end of the Red. Meanwhile, the men's soccer team would have drawn good crowds this season whether they were playing in the new stadium or not. And I said "up to a point" because you can't possibly compare the new softball stadium to the old one. USF could have been 50-0 and they still wouldn't have been able to get very many people to go to that piece of junk. But being 30-5 right now certainly doesn't hurt attendance at the new stadium.
People will come to experience the new Sun Dome on its own merits once or twice. But they'll keep coming back to see the basketball teams keep winning and building their programs.