Villanova has major plans for Pavilion upgrades

VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Fabled arena nicknames and fan chants are as much a part of elite college basketball programs as their March Madness successes. Think of the haunting ''Rock Chalk'' chant at Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse. The Cameron Crazies at Duke. The Pit. The Barn. The Octagon of Doom.

The most creative nickname for Villanova's 30-year-old Pavilion? The Ski Lodge.

That's not a compliment. And Villanova wants the Pavilion to undergo an extreme makeover - becoming bigger, brighter and bolder.

The Wildcats, a Big East power under coach Jay Wright, play in more of a super-sized YMCA rather than a state-of-the art arena. Courtside seats are filled with aging, deep-pocketed alumni instead of passionate students creating a big-game atmosphere for a team that's a staple in the rankings and made the Final Four in 2009. The students and the band are stuffed behind one basket on bleachers pulled out for game day.

The Wildcats won a record 46 straight games at the Pavilion from Jan. 17, 2007 to Feb. 12, 2011 on the backs of Scottie Reynolds and Kyle Lowry, not the fuel of some sort of rowdy home-court advantage.

To create that atmosphere, Villanova needs cash. Lots of it. And maybe even a new name.

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 upcoming 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.

Since then, the gym has been known since simply as The Pavilion. No honorary title for someone like longtime basketball coach Al Severance, and no revenue generated in naming rights, either.

''We don't have a lot of corporate naming opportunities on buildings on our campus,'' Villanova Athletic Director Vince Nicastro said. ''Most of our buildings are named after Augustinian priests. There is some sensitivity to corporate naming rights on something so visible. I think the university has been open to it, we just haven't found the right partner.''

Villanova is actively engaged in a fundraising drive for renovations to the Pavilion, adding everything from a video screen to more bathrooms, concession stands, souvenir stands, and premium suites.

''We want to create an arena that brings it up to current standards,'' Nicastro said. ''We just need to get some leadership gifts to really gain some traction.''

But the key questions of when the project would start, how long the process would take, what the final project would include - and the total bill - are all still undecided. Nicastro said there are no ''significant'' plans to add to the Pavilion's 6,500-seat capacity.

The Wildcats could look down the road to Philadelphia rival Saint Joseph's as an example. Former SJU student and current benefactor Michael J. Hagan contributed $10 million to the Alumni Fieldhouse renovation project and the gym was renamed the Michael J. Hagan `85 Arena in his honor.

The Pavilion likely wouldn't command a seven-figure annual deal, said Robert Boland, professor of sports business at NYU.

''It's just not a building that's going to host a lot of major events,'' Boland said. ''Could you get a sponsor to put its name on it? Yeah. Could you get somebody to do a corporate deal? Sure. But I think the value would be probably double for an alumnus to donate. To some degree, you can price it in into a philanthropy package as a result.''

The Wildcats maximize their revenue by shifting big games against rivals like Connecticut, Georgetown and Syracuse to the Wells Fargo Center, the 20,000-plus seat arena that's home of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers.

There aren't many major Division I programs that play in plain-named arenas. The University of Dayton Arena, The WVU Coliseum and Indiana's Assembly Hall are just a handful of sites with vanilla names.

Maybe 10 years from now, Villanova won't be on that list.

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