Coldplay. For $35. Good Charlotte. At any price. A presidential debate. Rumored to be open to roughly 1,000 people, few of them students.
These three events, jutting out from a sea of mediocrity, spell an unsuccessful start for the University of Miami’s pristine $50 million Convocation Center. Now I know why the Ryder moving company decided not to follow through with naming rights. To be sure, this is part of Donna Shalala’s master money-making athletic plan (just as when she was at the University of Wis-caaaanssin), where financial support is thrown in the direction of the big three (football, men’s basketball and baseball/hockey) in an effort to create a Reagan-like trickle-down effect on the rest of the school. The Convocation Center already has started to act as a bargaining chip in recruiting top-flight high school basketball players, as will UM’s switch to the tradition-rich ACC, where they’ll play the likes of Duke and Maryland. But to say the arena has been a success on the athletic front, when only two games this year have netted over 3,500 in attendance (half of the center’s capacity) would be wrong. Almost as wrong as thinking UM students want to see Good Charlotte in concert. Above all else, it was this Nov. 1 concert that stood out in my mind as the quintessential indicator that the Convocation Center events committee has absolutely no idea what it’s doing. I hate dwelling on the past, but that money could have been used to pay for Kellen Winslow’s etiquette lessons, donated to Gainesville in exchange for a permanent blockade on transfer football players, even used to get a good musical act to come play at UM. But instead, Good Charlotte, the exact kind of pitiful, processed pop that our students stand against. Other concerts, such as Coldplay, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes and Sean Paul, have been more appealing but generally overpriced. Maybe it’s time school officials look beyond MTV and try to attract college acts like Dispatch, the Roots and OAR that would fill the arena and not break our bank accounts. Of course, the key factor will be the presidential debate. Hosting such an important event will no doubt bring unending praise to Shalala for the impact she’s had on this school. It will also be crucial in raising voter awareness in one of the nation’s less efficient voting communities (take that, California!). But word is already going around that many of the seats in the Convocation Center will be unavailable to students, many of them curtained off in the first place. How is Shalala convincing her students that their vote counts when they are being turned away from a presidential debate? I don’t see there being a happy ending to this one. The pressure is on for UM to step it up and make the Convocation Center a facility the students are proud of.
Ben Minkus can be contacted at Boopalee@aol.com.