If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Fine, but who says you can't make what you have a little better?
In the last seven years, three of Western New York's Big 4 basketball programs have made significant renovations to their basketball arenas.
The latest facility to undergo refurbishing is the University at Buffalo's Alumni Arena, which got nearly $2 million worth of improvements.
Along with new basketball offices, the arena has added chairback seating behind the player benches and two new sets of bleachers behind the end lines. The floor has a new paint job and the seating and rails have all been painted the same shade of blue.
"From the time you walk into the arena -- be it a fan, a visitor or a member of our program -- you know where you are," UB men's basketball coach Reggie Witherspoon said. "It's an arena that is indigenous to us. It's ours. You see Buffalo, you see Bulls, you see the blue and white."
Season-ticket sales at UB have increased from 420 last season to a conservative estimate of 1,000 now, something that can be attributed to the team's success.
A spike in sales at Canisius and Niagara, which spent about $1.3 million each to renovate the Koessler Center (2002) and the Gallagher Center (1998), respectively, can be traced to the addition of chairback seating.
"The facility and the program improvement kind of go hand-in-hand in developing a season-ticket base," said Mike Hermann, Niagara's athletics director.
NU's Gallagher Center had only 120 chairback seats prior to its refurbishing, but now has 700. In the year prior to renovation, the Purple Eagles had 144 season-ticket holders for men's basketball. NU sold 505 season tickets last year.
The effect was very much the same at Canisius when it expanded from no chairbacks at all to 1,100. The Golden Griffins sold an average of 53 season tickets in the two seasons prior to the Koessler Center's upgrade. Despite struggles on the court, they have increased that number nearly six times over, averaging 307 season tickets sold in the two years since.
St. Bonaventure's Reilly Center has undergone some minor changes during the last 10 years, but nothing near the financial level of what has gone on at the other Big 4 schools. The Bonnies have added a new scoreboard, a hall of fame and some chairbacks and have redone their men's locker room. But they have not really seen the need to tweak their storied building too much.
Facility draws recruits
Aside from increasing a fan base, a quality facility helps coaches recruit.
"The biggest thing from that perspective is that it shows that we're committed," said Cheryl Dozier, women's basketball coach at UB. "(The renovation) shows that we're driving our athletic department and our university forward. . . . It just bleeds commitment and it kind of speaks for itself now."
At Canisius and Niagara, the coaching staffs used to shy away from showing off their facilities, but now a tour has become the highlight of an on-campus visit.
"We used to have to kind of brush by the gym -- it was under construction or something," said Canisius men's coach Mike MacDonald. "Now we take great pride in showing the place where we practice every day and play a good majority of our games. It's a great arena, a great fit."
Check's in the mail
These improvements can't be made for free. All of the projects were financed with major donations from individuals or families.
Bob and Connie Dwyer have pledged $5 million for renovations to Niagara's hockey facility -- including $2 million for additional upgrades to Dwyer Arena (primarily the installation of chairback seating) following this season.
But money can come from unexpected sources. A couple of years after the original renovation to the Gallagher Center, NU was able to follow through with a few more improvements.
"I got back from vacation in August that year, and going through all the mail at the office I saw this thick letter from a law firm," Niagara men's coach Joe Mihalich said. "I thought, "Oh boy, we've got some problems.' But as it turned out, it was an estate settlement."
The woman who left money to the program was Margaret Welfare -- a lady who was an avid fan of the program, always in a purple sweater at games hollering at the referees.
"When I saw someone was leaving money for us, I figured we could buy a couple new TVs for the locker room or something," Mihalich said. "As it turned out, we were able to update the locker rooms and offices for both the men's and women's programs with the (nearly $150,000) gift."
Smaller is better
One of the more interesting aspects of the renovations has been the change in capacity of the venues. UB, which set an attendance record last season with 8,971 people at its men's Mid-American Conference playoff game versus Northern Illinois, has decreased its capacity to 6,100, as chairbacks replace bleachers on one side of the court.
"It's going to put us in a position where we can fill the building," Witherspoon said. "Atmosphere-wise it is going to be a lot more fun for the fan . . . less fun for the visitor . . . and an advantage for the home team."
The addition of chairbacks in 1998 also decreased the Gallagher Center's capacity (to 2,400). Last season, Niagara played its home National Invitation Tournament game in Alumni Arena to handle a larger crowd.
Canisius increased its official capacity from 1,200 to 2,176, and now plays almost all of its home games in the Koessler Center. When MacDonald took over as head coach at Canisius in 1997, the Griffs played eight of their 12 home games downtown.
MacDonald equates the trend of playing in smaller gyms as opposed to large arenas to what has gone on with stadiums being built for major league baseball teams. The smaller size creates greater demand for a ticket and presents a more intimate and fan-friendly climate.
Mihalich, who "never saw a Division I facility as bad as (the Gallagher Center) before it was renovated," now feels that it "is the nicest on-campus facility in (the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference).
"What I like about it is that when it got renovated, it didn't lose its character or charm. . . . When you walk into it, I know it sounds corny, but you close your eyes and know you're in a gym. Sometimes these brand new sparkling places lose that -- they're not hallowed halls."