Huge Duke Win More Evidence Yurachek Needs to Park Potential Plan to Defang Bud Walton Arena

Trevon Brazile
Craven Whitlow

Like many Arkansans who couldn’t afford a ticket to watch Arkansas reassert itself on the college basketball landscape by beating Duke last Wednesday, I watched it at a sports bar.

If you were sitting where I was, you surely remember the collective cheers that spontaneously erupted in seeing Petrino in a Hog golf shirt – again.  No doubt, the football program got a shot in the arm last week, but what neither Pittman or Petrino may have realized is that, oddly enough, the coach they were watching, Eric Musselman, might have played a role in why they both were still in/returned to Fayetteville.

Hear me about. A lot of legitimate discussion in Hogland has centered around the theory that a reason Pittman wasn’t handed his walking papers after the Missouri game is that the department/Razorback Foundation just doesn’t have the cash to buy out the $16 million man.

There’s only so much moolah to go around, after all. The donors are being asked for a lot these days, and among those largest asks would be one to renovate Bud Walton Arena for an estimated $50 – $100 million according to preliminary figures. It’s not a stretch to say these potential plans to add more club suites among a host of cosmetic changes would not exist, at least not at this level, if not for the success of Eric Musselman.

Making Hay with Arkansas Basketball

Clearly, Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek is trying to make hay while the sun’s shining.  He’s banking on the idea that momentum from Musselman’s three consecutive journeys into the second weekend of March Madness will continue and may even include a national title soon.

There’s little question he’s right to think this. However, what can be done and what should be done are not always the same thing. Especially when one of the options for the renovation would mean adding suites, boxes and club level seating in addition to an expanded student section – all while reducing the overall capacity by 1,500 to 2,000 seats. 

Hog fans should assume the Arkansas basketball program has done more due diligence to analyze this prospect than the football program did on the Dan Enos hire, but nothing is certain and there are a lot of things to consider. Perhaps the biggest question is what taking away extra, normal seats from the “common man” and creating fewer, more posh seats that mostly corporations will buy up would do to the soul of the place. 

Granted, this is a trend nationwide as other schools have gone down similar paths in recent years. A recent renovation to Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, for instance, reduced seating capacity from 23,000 to 20,545. What are the ramifications of going, in relative terms, to a lower volume/higher margin business model from a higher volume/lower margin one?  

Removing nearly 2,000 seats from an arena that just packed in over 20,000 against Duke would have taken some of the bite off Arkansas’ home crowd advantage. Not a lot, mind you, but absolutely every bit helped when making the Duke players look shook through large portions of the game.

Aside from that, the more cheap seats available, the more the flame of Razorback mania can be kept lit. As fervent as Hog fans can be, it’s hard to keep supporting a program when you never get to actually go to a game.

“You’re going to lose some of that atmosphere when you add the corporate seats in there.” Matt Jones said on ESPN Arkansas’ “Halftime” this summer. “That’s why I don’t like it. We are going to lose some of that home court advantage for a little bit of money.”

After the Duke win, ESPN Arkansas Tye Richardson echoed Jones’ sentiment: 

As did Pig Trail Nation’s Mike Irwin, who referred to ESPN analyst Jay Bilas marveling at the level of crowd noise around tip-off:

Yes, one of the proposed options for renovation would just keep it to addressing deferred maintenance on items from seat cushions to hot water heaters, but I haven’t even seen the need for too many cosmetic changes in my recent visits to the Bud. 

Regardless of the crappiness levels of the bathrooms, I do know that if 18,000 – 20,000 people can be drawn to a game in Bud Walton Arena, we shouldn’t be downgrading to 16,000 – 18,000.  In fact, if additional revenue is taken out of the equation, such a move would be considered outright foolish.

If we can agree with that premise, then it goes without saying that the additional revenue had better be substantial.  I mean, really substantial.  In fact, it needs to be substantial enough to pay off whatever debt may be necessary on top of funds that are raised, but to also provide money for other training, practice and other facilities to increase a competitive advantage that offsets the lost noise inside the arena.

Arkansas basketball is on the brink of returning to blue blood status after knocking off Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky and Duke in recent seasons. As close as Arkansas is to elite status, it’s hard to believe it’s going to take an extra $50-$100 million to push it over the top.

Bottom Line about Bud Walton Arena

Just like the lack of NIL money in football had nothing to do with Arkansas’ terribly disappointing football season, the lack of primo seating in Bud Walton Arena had nothing to do with the poor free throw shooting that led to losses which last season hurt Arkansas’ NCAA seed, which contributed to a Sweet 16 last year, instead of reaching the Elite 8 for the third year in a row.

Skyboxes simply won’t cure these kinds of ills.

It would be one thing if Hog fans could say this is necessary in order to make it to the next level, but there is no next level.  Players and coaching, not planning and construction, are what’s necessary to stay at the top of college basketball and Eric Musselman is the guy to make that happen.

It may be true that change is the only constant in life but change primarily for the sake of change (the financial kind) is never a good strategy for a program that has a great thing going already.

Sometimes it comes down to the good ole country wisdom that tells us if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – especially when money matters.  

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Arkansas vs Furman

(a note from BoAS founder Evin Demirel)

On Monday night, the Arkansas basketball crowd didn’t exactly come out in spades for another team from the Carolinas that deliver nowhere near the same sizzle as Duke.

This time around, it was Furman from Greenville, South Carolina, which lost to the Hogs by 14 points as Khalif Battle led the way with 25 points, Chandler Lawson tacked on 19 points and Devo Davis came through with 7 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists.

There was no amped up scene leading up the big game this time around. The top shot is 22 minutes before tipoff but in the bottom shot check out the upper bowl:

Perhaps, a max of 11,000 folks showed up. Granted, this is normal for non-conference game against a mid-major team, but it also underlines more of the reasoning behind a potential seating reduction. Sure, the arena doesn’t max out for occasional game against a blue-blood or No. 1 ranked team like Auburn a couple years ago, but it also gets a less cavernous space for the mid-major non-con games and SEC games vs the Georgias and South Carolinas of the world that happen far more often.

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