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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Musings from the sports desk…

Saturday night you witnessed Arizona Stadium grow from a giant slab of concrete into the concrete jungle where Rose Bowl dreams are made of.

There’s nothing they can’t do.

Echoes from that electric night stormed across the southern Arizona desert just as a monsoon would attract your eyes to a lightning show visible from Nogales to Casa Grande and everywhere in between.

That night, you fell asleep with ears still ringing from a ZonaZoo-injected atmosphere, unrivaled by any student’s memory on this campus.

Yesterday morning your professors began class by commenting on the now-No. 14 Wildcats’ 34-27 win in the most anticipated season in recent memory.

It’s a program-defining win so contagious that it raised Arizona’s national image and brand enough for five-star point guard recruit Josiah Turner, on hand for the game in the ZonaZoo, to commit to Sean Miller’s 2011 team. Impressed by the atmosphere, Turner’s confidence “”In Miller We Trust”” no doubt maintains Arizona basketball as a perennial contender.

Over the weekend, sophomore hoops standout Derrick Williams, the guy who will undoubtedly move tickets next season as an NBA-level talent, posted a photo of Arizona’s 1997 National Championship team on Facebook, with a caption: “”I’m trying to get this feeling veryyyy soon.. what yall think?””

That’s how good the 2011-2012 season looks right now, with the dominant Williams down low and a backcourt consisting of spark-plug junior Lamont “”Momo“” Jones, four-star sophomore Daniel Bejarano and five-star incoming freshman Turner.

So good, maybe that team could sell out … Arizona Stadium? Think about it.

Imagine a Saturday afternoon in early March, under 75-degree clear skies with over 57,000 fans enjoying one of Tucson’s 350 days of sunshine … watching a potential Pac-12 title clincher.

The brilliant marketing mind of Greg Byrne must’ve thought of this already in a brainstorming session filled with white board scribbles, dollar signs and decimal places.

Imagine the national exposure a game like that would guarantee — a top-ranked basketball program taking on UCLA or Washington outside in the football stadium — leading SportsCenter and striking a buzz strong enough to carry the Wildcats through any tournament seeding.

Imagine the recruiting envy all over the country as the only environment — the one that sold Miller here in the first place — that would allow for perfect weather conditions to flex the muscles of Tucson’s climate against the rest of the country still shoveling snow.

Heck, imagine hosting the Arizona vs. ASU game in what would be the most hostile college basketball environment in the country after an afternoon of tailgating on the UA Mall and the ultra-hyped fanbases.

The NCAA has embraced opportunities like these on national levels with its new configuration for Sweet 16 and Final Four host venues in the past three years. While most of today’s ultra-new NFL stadiums have hosted these games — such as Texas vs. Michigan State in Cowboy Stadium last year — it would be unprecedented for a game to be played outside.

The Phoenix Suns will play their third consecutive outdoor exhibition game this October in Indian Wells, Calif., at the 15,600-seat tennis garden — but what’s a meaningless exhibition game with only a thousand more fans than McKale Center holds.

The Syracuse Orange play all their home games at the Carrier Dome, which holds 34,616 as the largest NCAA Division I on-campus venue — but obviously indoors for upstate New York winters.

So my question is: If Byrne can successfully create new traditions (the Wildcat Walk) in his first few months on the job, can he create a much larger one in his first few years on the job?

There’s nothing they can’t do.

– Commentary By Bryan Roy

 

Athletic director Greg Byrne said in a press conference earlier this month that he only steals good ideas from other people. Here’s one to take into serious consideration: open McKale Center for students to watch the game on the JumboTron when the ZonaZoo section is expected to fill up.

It makes sense. Fans want to watch the game with other fans, feed off each other’s energy and have someone to high-five when a nice play is made.

Arizona’s campus was buzzing even before the then-No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes arrived on campus. Two ranked opponents in Arizona Stadium hadn’t been seen on the home schedule in 20 years.

So it was no surprise that the line for the ZonaZoo was densely packed with hyped fans eager to see the game.

They came energized, ready to make their presence known to the Hawkeyes, who had defeated the Wildcats on their own turf in Kinnick Stadium just a year earlier.

They came early — the line to get into ZonaZoo was filled almost out to the Cherry Avenue Parking Garage two hours prior to kick off.

They came ready to see a great showdown between the Big Ten Conference and the Pacific 10 Conference, and they expected to get a seat.

For many students, all the effort was for naught.

The ZonaZoo student section remained opened for about 45 minutes on Saturday night before students were told that the student section was full. Wildcat faithful were cut off, with the stadium clock showing 75 minutes until kickoff.

Some students refused to leave the area, getting into fights with one another and causing several altercations with police officers in the area.

Others scrambled to scalpers, desperately searching for tickets to be there in person.

Arizona has the largest student section in the Pac-10, with an estimated 10,000 seats reserved from end zone to end zone, but it still wasn’t enough to feed the need of the eager and energized students — a fact not surprising when you consider that Arizona’s incoming freshman class alone is 7,000 students.

Unfortunately, Arizona is a campus that doesn’t offer a lot of convenience when it comes to watching the games with other student fans if you’re under 21 years old. Hot spots like Frog and Firkin and No Anchovies on University Boulevard are filled prior to game time, and don’t offer the amount of seating that rejected ZonaZoo goers would need to still have the atmosphere they’re craving.

McKale Center, on the other hand, has plenty of seating, concession stands, and convenience — the ZonaZoo entrance at Arizona Stadium is less than 500 feet from the ZonaZoo entrance at McKale Center.

For games that have the magnitude of an Iowa matchup — or when College GameDay comes to visit as it did last year with Oregon — Arizona Athletics personnel should prepare for overflow.

We all know this will happen again, especially on Sourthern California’s visit on Nov. 13, and the season-ending Thursday night battle with ASU on Dec. 2.

Sure, it would require some planning, but with the possibility, students would still have somewhere to go for the big game when the ZonaZoo is full. Some students may even prefer the air-conditioned McKale Center to waiting hours in the desert heat. Worried about not having a contained atmosphere? McKale Center has a curtain that is designed to cut off the upper deck, making the venue the perfect size for the give-or-take-thousand students who still want to enjoy the matchup on campus.

A simple trek down Cherry Avenue would save the police officers and security the trouble of dealing with students fuming about being turned away from the talk of campus.

Plain and simple, it works for everyone. Arizona athletics has the potential to earn money from concessions inside McKale Center, and students get the game-like atmosphere they’re looking for on college football Saturday.

 

– Commentary By Nicole Dimtsios

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