Is Syracuse About to Ditch the Carrier Dome?Posted by Chris Johnson on July 3rd, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
There are a select few college hoops arenas that inhabit a special place in athletics venue lore. Hinkle Fieldhouse is the archetypically quaint “field house” college basketball fans like to get all nostalgic about. Cameron Indoor is suffocating for opposing teams, and endearingly cozy for Blue Devil supporters. Pauley Pavilion, renovated or no, remains a special place to sit back and watch the sport we love played amongst some of its best student-athletes. This list is not finite, but if there’s one glaring omission, one historic arena that warrants a spot in any sport’s list of preeminent hosting grounds, it’s the Carrier Dome. Syracuse’s basketball and football home is buried deep in the cultural annals of Orange sports. Its wacky sightlines, baffling seating arrangements and enormous crowds (by college hoops standards) are defining tent poles in Syracuse’s basketball identity.
Since its construction in 1980, the Dome has taken on an almost mythical architectural status among college hoops fans. Whenever Syracuse fans talk about their basketball team, the conversation won’t normally span more than three or four brief exchanges before a simple question is raised: “Have you ever seen a game at the Carrier Dome?” Unfortunately, my only experience at the Dome was for a football game – which, well, let’s leave it there. But plenty of people, particularly those who either attend or once attended the university, have shown up in droves on many a chilly weeknight, or geeked-up College Gameday Saturday, to watch their favorite team play. If, like me, you are among those who still haven’t experienced the Dome’s typically electric hoops environment, you should probably get on that. Like, fast.
That directive is a reaction to a recent article by Donna Ditota of Syracuse Post Standard, who brings to light comments from athletic director Daryl Gross about the Dome’s prospective relinquishing of Orange basketball hosting duties.
“I think Central New York deserves an unbelievable place,” said Gross, SU’s athletic director. “You’ve got all these great new stadiums in New York City and then you start coming upstate and the next biggest thing you run into is the Dome. And so there will be a day one day for folks up here to be able to enjoy and take advantage of those kinds of amenities. That’s part of our thinking. We always think that way. And I’m a big dreamer, anyway.”
In the interest of not reorganizing Ditota’s work into a blockquoted jigsaw puzzle, I recommend you read the entire article. The argument Gross makes must be frustrating for any Orange fan, but he does raise valid points. The Orange will remain a nationally-contending program as long as Jim Boeheim stays on board, whether their facilities meet today’s increasingly avant-garde standard or not. Top-ranked recruits are still (and will still) flocking to Syracuse for the promise of eventual NBA Draft selection and Tournament success each and every year. Boeheim has the engine humming, and it doesn’t look like its about to stop any time soon. Syracuse’s formula for success has worked for more than three decades. Just because the Dome might not offer the same modern perks of some of the nation’s shiniest new arenas doesn’t mean the basketball program is about to collapse entirely.
Constructing a new arena might help the already buoyant Orange launch their program into a new modernistic stratosphere – replacing the antique charm the Carrier Dome evokes from diehard Orange fans but may draw nothing more than a tepid yawn from today’s best 17-year old basketball players. What does that trademark pillowy white semi-circle piercing the Upstate New York skyline mean to a top-ranked point guard these days, anyway? Are the modern amenities offered by some of college hoops’ more recently constructed arenas more important to Syracuse’s lasting competitiveness in a historically stacked league? Do today’s recruits even care about how long the Carrier Dome has stood as one of the sport’s great architectural flagships? Is the enchantment of the Dome (and it’s maddening parking arrangements, plus the laborious hill climb one must endure just to get inside) wearing off on casual fans?
The tension Gross – and presumably other Syracuse brass – is dealing with is nothing particularly novel. Battling the desire to sustain the genuine architectural charm of a historic venue with the foresight of doing what’s best for a given sports team is a perilous tightrope to straddle. Hardcore fans typically get huffy the moment an owner or athletic director even mentions the idea of renovations or (gasp!) remodeling. Taking Syracuse out of its natural hoops habitat in favor of a new arena modernized arena located elsewhere on campus would engender mixed emotional reaction, at best; at worst, fans would berate athletic department officials for taking away the most important and most memorable thing about their Orange fandom. They’d have Boeheim’s approval, for one. “You build a new basketball arena, then you’ve got a basketball arena, just like everybody else has,” Boeheim told the Post-Standard. “We have a unique building. And it’s in good shape. I’m not sure there’s a reason. And if you build a place, where will it be?”
In Boeheim’s view – and he would know, duh – the arena’s clunky visuals and booming crowds, something a new down-campus arena may never provide, are part of why the Orange have grown into the consistent force they are today. The Dome is firmly embedded in the genetic map of the Orange’s hoops rise under Boeheim; it’s not hard to see why the rumblings of a translocation would rankle the 900-wins coach. There are a slew of interesting angles to tackle here, and the debate on the Dome’s continued function will rage on behind closed doors in the coming years. But the topic is being discussed, and even if the plans for a remodeling or relocation are merely in their Beta prototype phase, this is nothing to shrug off and forget about. The Dome’s future is a murky prospect. The rumors are facts now. Change is a legitimate possibility.