What's An Arena For, Anyway?

They hung a banner seven stories high off the side of a building. (Then they followed that up with another one a block away from the top of the downtown parking ramp.) I've seen All-American Banners for various Iowa football greats hanging off Kinnick Stadium over the years. But I'd never seen that. I was at work when I first saw the picture on Twitter and, it being maybe a half a block away and being blessed with one of those days where nothing much is going on, I took a little stroll to see it for myself.

It looked even bigger in person.

Complaining about Carver-Hawkeye Arena has become an annual tradition for the Iowa Commentariat and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. I get that the Online Commentariat thrives off of complaining about anything and everything, but if you really dig down and look at the place, you'd find that there really isn't all that much to complain about.

Carver-Hawkeye is a product of its time ('The House That Lute Built', Wikipedia labels it as--which I've never heard anyone call it ever.) It was built in 1982 and it looks like it too. Green-glass bricks and vaguely pastel metalwork on the exterior are never going to capture the popular zeitgeist the way the bricks and arches of Kinnick Stadium do. Kinnick reminds you constantly that you're in 'Historic Kinnick Stadium' either to really remind you of all that history or clue in newcomers to the architectural choice of having a football stadium directly across from a large, expansive hospital. (It's 'Historic', okay?) If Carver tried to welcome people to 'Historic Carver-Hawkeye Arena' it would be greeted with laughter.

But people really seem to dislike the place and if the University announced it was moving Kinnick, there would be a riot, but if they announced a new Arena, they'd throw a parade. But with a new Wrestling Training Facility about to come online and another addition that, in the grand scheme of things, isn't all that old, the probability of a new arena being built is close to zero in my opinion.

So, if you can't get a new Arena, then what do you do with the one you've got?

Acknowledge what you can't control: the live sports experience is something that every league at every level is struggling with. Televisions come in 4K now and the tyranny of convenience is very much a thing here: sometimes it's just easier to watch the game at home on your couch than it is to go see it in person. Tip-off times are entirely in the hands of the television networks. Sometimes you'll get a nice Sunday afternoon tip, other times you'll get an 8:30 PM tip on a school night. Television giveth and television taketh away. Basketball also lies between semesters, so you don't have students for a decent chunk of your season so in answering this question, we have to admit to ourselves: there are just some things you can't control.

But only some things.

Hate the parking? Well, prepare for a season or two of parking hell, because it sounds like they want to build a new parking ramp right across the street from the Arena. That should help.

The 'sit down' crowd? If I had my druthers, I'd take the north end of the bowl, split it in two, and move the lower half as close as possible to the basket and make that your student section/standing room only seats. You'd have a middle concourse space if you do it right and that could open up some possibilities to play with.

Modernizing the concessions wouldn't be the worst idea in the world either. By all means: don't mess with the Carver Cone (though $1 Carver Cone Night would probably pack 'em in nicely if you do that now and again.) I don't know how food service contracts work, so that might be harder than I think, but a pop-up stand where you can showcase Iowa brands and restaurants. (Casey's Pizza Night, Panchero's Night, etc) might be a nice feature to add. 

There are other ideas out there: new court design, making row 22 in section CC gold seats-- in fact, changing the color of the seats might be an idea worth considering full stop. But whatever you want, it sounds as if Iowa's new Athletic Director is at least looking at a feasibility study to see about the possibilities.

Whatever you do, center it around the idea of legacy. Showcase the legacy of basketball at Iowa. Showcase the legacy of wrestling. Kinnick may have the history, but Carver-Hawkeye Arena should be about the legacy you can build and what you can leave behind when you go. 

Sure, Carver has the requisite banners hung for tournament appearances and Big Ten Championships. They've got retired jerseys hung in the rafters, but other than that, they could do a better job showcasing the historical legacy of the programs that play there. If you've got a jersey hanging from the ceiling, then you should have a panel on a wall somewhere on the concourse, where people can find out about you. Final Four appearances, Wrestling All-Americans (maybe, 'they never lost a match in Carver' could be the criteria here, since wrestling doesn't really have numbers you could retire) but the best way to change the perception of the place is to remind people of the athletes that make the place great. You don't have to make it a museum, but people should be able to come to the games or meets or see that historical legacy for themselves. (For instance, the first five-on-five college basketball game was played at Iowa. I didn't know that: did you?)

I'm a big believer in always looking for ways to make things better. You could do any number of things to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but whatever you do, make it about legacy. You're never going to be able to play up the history the way Kinnick Stadium does. But Pete Maravich's all-time scoring record went down this afternoon on a free throw. They're doing Senior Day Ceremonies right now and I don't know if a single person has left their seats. Everyone has been at this game: Nolen Ryan, Travis Scott, Maya Moore, Lynette Woodard, and Jake from State Farm are all in attendance.

That's the thing about legacies: they can look a lot bigger in person.


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