Villanova faces season on the road during gym renovations
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Villanova will soon have to pack its national championship banners and raise them in another gym during a season-long road trip.
The outdated Pavilion is undergoing a needed face lift.
The 2016 national champion Wildcats received a $22.6 million donation from an alumnus in April to renovate their arena, and plans are underway to use the cash to help give the gym a more contemporary feel.
Because it takes time to add suites, concession stands and other amenities, the Wildcats will be forced to play a season on the road during construction.
''Earliest would be next year,'' coach Jay Wright told The Associated Press. ''It could be year after that, year after that. But it's inevitable. And I think inevitable within the next two, three years.''
The Wildcats most logical new home would be the Palestra, the basketball cathedral on Penn's campus and home of city hoops. Saint Joseph's played its home games there in 2008-09 when its gym also underwent extensive renovations.
Bill Finneran made the largest athletic gift in Villanova history to give the Pavilion an overhaul and support the men's program. Finneran is a 1963 Villanova alumnus and chairman and co-founder of EXOP Capital, a long/short hedge fund firm in New York.
Unlike some deep-pocket boosters, his gift didn't come with a naming rights demand, and corporate sponsorship is on the table.
''I know the guy well. I don't think he cares,'' Wright said. ''I think it's going to be a strategy tied in with fundraising.''
The arena has been without corporate sponsorship or an honorary title since 1997, when it stripped the last name of millionaire donor John du Pont. Du Pont, the subject of the film ''Foxcatcher'' starring Steve Carell, was convicted of the 1996 murder of Olympic gold medalist wrestler Mark Schultz. Du Pont had pledged $5 million to Villanova for the on-campus arena when it opened in 1986; school officials have said he actually gave the university between $500,000 and $1 million.
The Pavilion opened in 1986 - months after the `85 team won the national title - and serves as the home arena for the men's and women's basketball programs. It's a multipurpose gym for other varsity and intramural sports.
The 6,500-seat venue is more of a super-sized YMCA rather than a state-of-the art arena. There are sparse concession stands and restrooms and no true suites and other high-end amenities. Courtside seats are filled with aging, deep-pocketed alumni instead of passionate students that would create a big-game atmosphere.
It's not a great venue to watch basketball.
''It's not,'' Wright said, laughing. ''We've got to gut it and we've got to make everything better. The fan experience, the sightlines, amenities, suites. It's got to be a major project. And it's got to be an all-basketball arena.''
The Wildcats play three to six games a season at the Wells Fargo Center, the home of the NBA's 76ers, and generally pack the 20,000-seat arena.
''We want to keep the unique experience that our games during the week, we'll play here on campus. On weekends, we'll play at the Wells Fargo Center,'' Wright said. ''If we just stayed here in our little Main Line building, we wouldn't have any connection to Philly.''