There’s a small arms race going on in college basketball, and Georgetown is falling behind.
Look at the Big East and you’ll find campuses with a fresh new building being opened or at least bulldozers in place. Syracuse, Villanova and West Virginia – what do they all have in common? Besides their regular season records this year, they all have either built or have broken ground on practice facilities.
Georgetown, however, still practices in ancient McDonough Gymnasium, a small space that houses offices, training facilities and locker rooms for 21 teams. It is also the home of the women’s basketball team and the volleyball team and the practice facility for both of them plus the men’s basketball team.
If you don’t get the picture yet, it’s pretty crowded in there. It did host an inaugural ball for Eisenhower, though, so it’s got that going for it.
In October, Rick Pitino, whose Louisville program will move into new digs next year at the KFC Yum! Center (yes, that’s its name), had a few things to say about the importance of a program’s facilities.
“When you build a program, you not only build it by winning on the court, you have to build the infrastructure,” he said.
Last fall I had the opportunity to check out Kentucky’s basketball facility, the Joe Craft Center, and say what you want, but the Wildcats have it right. Adjacent courts and offices for both the men and women give the teams the opportunity to practice whenever they want, uninterrupted by scheduling conflicts. Giant banners, which would make fascist Italy blush, list all seven national titles the Kentucky men won while a window from the coaches’ offices overlooks the court. Down the hall is a state of the art training facility, equipped with a height-adjustable underwater treadmill for rehab. A few steps out the door and you find yourself in the weight room, which has Hammer Strength and Vertical equipment specially designed for the taller basketball players.
“It’s important to give each of our programs the facilities that are necessary for them to compete,” Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said in their men’s basketball yearbook this year.
“It’s important for schools to just say we’re competing in the arms race and we have the same weapons as the other guy,” Dave Telep, recruiting guru for Scout.com, told me in a phone interview Thursday.
Now a basketball facility isn’t the end-all be-all of a basketball program. Practice facility or not, Greg Monroe would be a great player, but having one certainly doesn’t hurt.
Carmelo Anthony thought enough of it to kick back $3 million to Syracuse to build theirs. Though to be fair, having the facility named after him and the tax incentive probably didn’t hurt.
“I don’t think facilities get kids,” Telep said. “I think a lack of facilities hurts in your pursuit of guys, especially if you’re recruiting against other guys that have nice buildings.”
The Georgetown 2010 Campus Plan includes a nice building right outside of McDonough with what seems like tennis courts on top. Inside would be that practice facility the Hoyas need. This facility would give extra office space to every coach at Georgetown and more locker room space and meeting space for the athletes and teams. This portion of the Campus Plan hasn’t brought uproar from the surrounding community – practice facilities don’t bring traffic the way an on-campus arena would – and it seems that it just comes down to final planning and funding.
Georgetown certainly has a nice recruiting tool, playing in a 20,000-seat pro arena with the chance of a visit from the First Fan, but Telep thinks that seeing Verizon Center as a selling point is really a matter of a recruit’s personality.
“Everybody’s different,” he said. “You might want to play in a pro arena in front of President Obama. I might want to be [at a] college [that] plays in an on-campus arena in front of my peers.”
With construction of the science building finally picking up, it’s time to really turn the attention on a Georgetown basketball facility. In the 1990s movie “The Program,” James Caan, playing a football coach, asked, and I’m paraphrasing, have 80,000 people ever showed up to watch a science experiment?
I’m not advocating that type of philosophy, but basketball can be a big boon for Georgetown. It brings the community together in a way not much else can. It helps to bring in alumni donations and it gives Georgetown national exposure on a weekly basis in the winter and spring.
It also hardly seems a coincidence that applications hit their peak in 2008, during the application season following the Hoyas’ Final Four run. It might be a random occurrence, but it’s probably another example of the Flutie Factor, whereby colleges see a rise in donations, applications and standards following athletic success as Boston College did in the 1980s.
Basketball is big business and Georgetown has been and should be in the business of winning. McDonough may get the job done for now, but it’s outdated, and every time another opponent cuts tape or breaks ground on a practice facility, Georgetown falls further behind.
People expect great things out of the team, yet are satisfied with average accommodations. It’s time to make sure that come the 2020 Campus Plan, the basketball practice facility isn’t still up for debate.
Ryan Travers is a senior in the College and a former Sports Editor at THE HOYA. Follow him on [Twitter](https:// twitter.com/illprocedure). He can be reached at traversthehoya.com. Illegal Procedure appears in every Friday issue of HOYA SPORTS.