After writing about the need to invest in basketball and upgrade facilities, it seemed that the discussion turned toward tearing down the RAC (or re-purposing it) and building a completely new arena. Most who were in favor of this idea want the arena built somewhere downtown. It would be shiny, new and probably a great place to watch a game.
But that wasn't the argument being made, and it's not what I think Rutgers needs to compete in basketball in the next five years.
Here's the deal: The RAC is fine. Yes, it's old and all the amenities aren't there, but it has great sight lines, gets really loud when full, and Rutgers actually did a nice job the past two years upgrading it. The videoboard, side panels boards and new sound system are great. The new floor is sharp, and the way the banners are hung are fantastic. Sure there are still lines at the bathroom and to buy food, but who cares?
Because that's not what this argument is about. The RAC, when Rutgers is good, is a great place to watch a game.
The problem, however, is that Rutgers basketball can't get enough talent in place to be good. And this argument is about why Rutgers needs to start catering to its players and its recruits. You sell a kid on where he'll be for the next four years of his life. Players in major programs comparatively spend little time in the arena(s) where they play their games.
Most of the time they spend in their sanctuary. The almighty practice facility. This must come first. A practice facility is not just a place for the players to show up and practice--despite the title. It's a place for them to congregate, watch film, build chemistry, study and hang out.
Look around the country. VCU is building a pretty damn impressive one. Everything basketball related takes place here. This is the team's home. And there are places for the players to hang out, including a lounge and a gameroom. UCLA is building the same thing.
Right now Rutgers men and women share the RAC. Practice times have to be scheduled around each other and players can't hang out there. They go to the RAC, they have their meetings, practices, lifts--and maybe study (not sure where that's located) and they go home. It's not shiny or fancy or new. It's not a place to spend all your hours.
And that's how you have to sell recruits. You don't just sell recruits on the program, you sell recruits on the life. This is where high school students are going to spend the next four years after they graduate. They want to know it will be spacious, shiny and fun. They want to know where their home is going to be.
They want to know they are loved.
Maybe somewhere down the line, Rutgers can pay the fans' mind and look toward building a new arena with the greatest fan experience and amenities. Maybe it will be something akin to the Peterson Events Center, and will pay off as a great home court advantage for the team.
But you need to build from the ground up, and Rutgers needs to start building their team. Players need to be sold on coming to Rutgers--not just to be a Scarlet Knight basketball player, but kids want to be treated like royalty. They want the best.
Maybe the rumored Athletic Village is the way to go--it will bring chemistry to the entire athletic department. But whatever the answer is, it's not tearing down the RAC. Not yet.
Is a brandy-dandy new practice facility the end all be all? No. Rutgers will need to (or perhaps already does) have the right staff in place to sell the kids on their vision. And they will need time to start winning recruiting battles against teams that have won for a long time.
But right now, Eddie Jordan, Greg Vetrone, Van Macon and Mike O'Koren are fighting a recruiting battle with less than adequate weapons. Rutgers basketball has been fighting that battle for too many years.
We know what happened when football got what it wanted and put the right person in place. And football continues to keep up with the Jonses (or whomever). They have the Hale Center and a fantastic recruiting lounge and so on.
Basketball needs its version of the Hale Center. The RAC is serviceable for games, and can even be great, but RU athletics needs to invest in making the every day lives of the basketball players just as wonderful.
It's not always about the fans, but winning will bring those fans in. Some view it as a chicken and egg conundrum, win and then build. But this time, after years of neglect, buidling has to come first.
Keep the RAC and add to it. Pick the right fight.
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