EDITORIAL : Center misses a beat

Ever since the reestablishment of the basketball program in 1985, the University of Miami has dreamt big about an on-campus facility, one that would provide a unique college atmosphere to the up and coming Miami Hurricanes and Lady ‘Canes squads. This new arena would provide a large fan base for what was considered the poor third sister in ‘Canes athletics, and obviously was a much more appealing option than heading into Overtown or spending Friday nights at a high school gym.
It took eighteen years and several rejections from the City of Coral Gables, but the University of Miami finally had their on-campus facility, even if it was long after every other Big East program was already settled into an on-campus arena. Sure, there was no sponsor after Ryder refused to cooperate with the University’s high demands. Sure, the City of Coral Gables made sure to put their footprints on the whole building process, refusing to allow UM to expand the 7,000 seat plan into an 11,000 seat facility, but on Jan. 4, 2003, the Convocation Center was open to the public and Miami had the University of North Carolina as their first opponent.
Now there are two questions to be answered about the Convocation Center. Is this a better solution than either the Miami Arena or the Knight Sports Complex? Of course, but it wouldn’t take much effort to top the looks, atmosphere and accessibility of those two places. The more important question is, does the Convocation Center represent the impressive, state of the art facility that will vault Miami’s men’s and women’s programs into the top tier of respectability in college athletics? Hardly.
So, where did eighteen years of planning go wrong? It’s hard to point the finger at one definitive factor, but the answer provided here is a lack of effort. Rather than a facility on par with some of the nicest arenas around the country, the Convocation Center looks like it was built on the foundation of mediocrity. The problems begin with the 4,000 seats that were never built. They are still more than noticeable as a large block of gray concrete, and uncovered for everyone’s viewing pleasure. How much effort would it have taken to put tarp over this rather unattractive area? Apparently, the University must have guessed that most people wouldn’t notice. ESPN cameras at the North Carolina game dictated that the University guessed wrong.
Then, there is the court, with its centerpiece of a large, much too large U. The baselines are solid green with Miami Hurricanes painted in white letters. This may not sound like a problem in itself, but what it represents more is a lack of creativity and an acceptance to follow the designs of the country’s other mediocre facilities.
Finally, the Convocation Center has a more business-like atmosphere than the hoped-for college atmosphere. The seats seem very distant from the playing area, and the hallways are far too reminiscent of the Miami Arena. Plus, designating only 1,000 student tickets per game is not going to turn the Convocation Center into Cameron Indoor Stadium anytime soon.
Is it already time to throw in the towel with the University’s newest project? Absolutely not. Hopefully, Coral Gables will eventually give in and allow the Convocation Center to be the 11,000-seat facility it was supposed to be. Hopefully, UM will continue to make improvements during the off-season. And hopefully, the school can find a title sponsor quickly so the Convocation Center won’t have to share the same name as about 20 other collegiate arenas. For now, though, the first letters of Convocation and Center represent the new arena’s disappointing grade.