Can we fix our own mess first?
It is completely understandable that the attention span of UConn sports fans wavers between standard game watching and conference realignment. There isn’t anyone with an affinity for State U that doesn’t want to be delivered from Elba, otherwise known as the American Athletic Conference.
But before we pine for a nicer home where the buffalo roam, can we at least make sure our own house is in order?
Translation: If we can’t even agree to allot money to fix the XL Center, the downtown home of UConn sports — and really, the epicenter of sports in Connecticut — why would the ACC, Big 10 or lately the Big 12 honestly take us seriously?
A few events transpired this week imperiling the likelihood that the XL Center, home to a pair of national champions, UConn hockey, minor league hockey and many concerts, gets the $250 million Capital Region Development Authority head Mike Freimuth says it needs for a complete home makeover.
First, news comes that the ill-conceived new baseball stadium in Hartford won’t be finished on time and will come in over budget. Stunning upset there. This is what happens when people who can’t run a garage sale are entrusted with running a city.
Technically, the new ballpark and the XL Center are mutually exclusive endeavors. But perceptually, they fall under the sporting umbrella that already has enough detractors. Do you have any idea the difficulty of selling the idea of $250 million for the arena when the ballpark’s cup has already runneth over?
This is why many of us bristled at the thought of the new ballpark with the arena in disrepair. Freimuth, a straight shooter, is correct when he calls the XL Center the granddaddy. It is home to our most important teams, surely more significant than some minor league baseball team.
More money required for the ballpark’s completion provides fodder to the anti-sports crowd, who already act like a revitalized XL Center is a bigger crime than when the Goodfellas robbed Lufthansa.
Example: The Hartford Courant ran an opinion piece earlier this week from Joe Markley, a Republican state senator from Southington, who apparently fancies himself an authority on urban revival.
Mr. Markley wrote, “there's no need for a hulking arena in the center of Hartford. It was a mistake from the first, every dollar spent on it wasted. … The property should be made available for private development, and recreated as a true city block with a variety of buildings and uses, not a single, spirit-killing concrete bunker. A model of what works can be found right across from the XL Center, by taking a walk down Pratt Street, one of the few stretches downtown still alive and appealing, with dozens of businesses at street level, many more offices above, and not a single government-built edifice to be seen.”
How we continue to elect some of these people mystifies me.
But just for fun, think to yourself: Do you go to downtown Hartford to see a game or a concert at the XL Center or the breathtaking whimsy of Pratt St.?
Public investment in the XL Center is a necessity because it is for public use. People go there for games and concerts. It is the indoor village green. UConn has played hundreds of memorable games there over the years. Maybe the worth of the place is more anecdotal. But we do need downtown hubs that appeal to our social well-being, no?
Many major American cities have fostered revivals around sports arenas. Think we can elect somebody — anybody — with the foresight to realize it? And memo to Gov. Malloy: You pine to get UConn in Hockey East and play at the XL Center … and then when money is required to fix the place, the sound from your office is crickets?
We can’t agree than the downtown venue for two national championship programs needs a makeover. What an inspiring message to send to other conferences: Basketball is so important in Connecticut that they’re going to let their downtown arena crumble.
Talk about bad timing. The Big 12 may be in play for UConn in the future. Athletic department sources said recently that UConn president Susan Herbst has sought counsel from former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese. Herbst asked him to use his contacts and expertise to see exactly when and where UConn might fit in conference realignment.
Athletic department sources said that UConn may be on the Big 12’s radar because of its presence in New York, to the degree that the UConn-Texas basketball series may continue in the future at Madison Square Garden and UConn-Texas may play football in the future at Yankee Stadium. What is fact and what is fiction is unclear, but there’s no denying that UConn will be in the conversation, if the Big 12 expands.
We’ll know that much after next Friday at the NCAA Convention in San Antonio. If the NCAA/Power 5 uphold the rule that conferences need 12 schools to hold a league championship football game, the Big 12 might expand. UConn will be a candidate.
And yet here we are wondering whether we can get a downtown arena fixed.
Ah, Connecticut. Where all the voices must be heard to justify their existences. And where the wheels spin furiously with no traction whatsoever.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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