What is the point of spending $20 to $25 million on a couple of glorified practice courts?
Even more, why would anyone spend most of their practice time on floors and rims they don’t play on?
The questions are raised by anyone convinced Arkansas’ athletic department is wasting its time and energy putting together plans for a practice facility for the men’s and women’s basketball programs.
Those plans took a step toward reality last week, when Arkansas announced it was moving forward with three major construction projects — the basketball practice facility, an indoor baseball/track practice facility, and an athlete’s academic and dining center.
It proved Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long’s facilities master plan, unveiled last October, was more than just several fancy-looking sketches. It also ensured construction around the athletic department — already in full swing thanks to the football operations center — will continue for the foreseeable future. And it ensured supporters will be asked to dig deeper into their pockets as the program continues to grow and expand under Long’s guidance.
There’s no doubt the basketball facility is the most recognized project of the three. And the most debated project. But it’s importance shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Two key factors to consider:
— Long is not shy about proclaiming one attention-grabbing point. The Razorbacks are the only Southeastern Conference program which doesn’t have a separate practice facility. And it’s a no-no in a recruiting world highlighted by glitz and glamour.
Yes, Bud Walton Arena at full capacity is an impressive place to impress prospects when in town for recruiting visits. There aren’t many places in the country — and certainly not in the SEC — which can produce a better scene. But the next question from interested prospects: So what else do you have?
It’s a question Arkansas has addressed in football with the operations center, elevated practice fields and — whether anthracite makes you groan or not — new uniforms. It must be addressed in basketball, too.
“That combination of a beautiful Bud Walton Arena with 19,000 or 20,000 and that basketball practice facility will really give us a chance to recruit at a high, high level,” Long said back in March 2011, when Mike Anderson was hired to lead the men’s program.
— There are many scheduling complications involved in having only one practice court, too. Ask Anderson and women’s coach Tom Collen, who must feel like they’re putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle when organizing court time around class time.
The Razorbacks have made it work for years, dividing the time on the court during the season and working around events like the Wal-Mart shareholders meeting, which practically kicks both teams out of their own facility for a week in the summer. But there’s no doubt a practice facility will provide both programs with options — important ones — as they move forward.
The raw details of the new facility were laid out in a press release late last week. The projected size of the basketball practice building will be an estimated 70,000 to 85,000 square feet, which is roughly the same size as the football operations center.
There will be plenty of pizzazz in the new place, including a basketball museum for fans and lounge areas for players and coaches. But the more practical purposes are vital as well with two full-length basketball courts, meeting rooms, coaches offices, locker rooms, weight rooms and training rooms.
Long has often said the Razorbacks believe they’ve fallen behind in the college basketball arms race in the age of practice palaces. It’s also no secret the Arkansas men’s basketball program has wallowed in mediocrity throughout the past 10 years, struggling to string together NCAA Tournament runs.
A new basketball practice facility alone doesn’t guarantee success. But there is one important question to pose when considering those two facts.
Isn’t a shiny and new practice pad worth the time and energy if there’s any chance it can put Arkansas basketball in better position to return to prominence?
Robbie Neiswanger is a Fayetteville-based sportswriter who leads Razorback coverage in all sports for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail is email@example.com