You snooze, you lose. University of Arizona basketball fans learned that old lesson the hard way over the weekend.
Here we are just getting started on a new college football season, and the Wildcats’ football team electrifies its fan base in the opening game against UNLV by setting a new school record with 787 yards of total offense… and BASKETBALL tickets are selling like hotcakes.
Yep, basketball. The sport that doesn’t get underway for a couple of months yet.
According to a report in the UofA student newspaper, The Daily Wildcat, tickets for the annual Red-Blue Game went on sale over the weekend – and sold out in 90 minutes. Sales opened at 10 a.m. and were gone before noon.
And this is a scrimmage, mind you. Yep, a scrimmage. Between two teams formed out of the same team.
“We get more people at our Red-Blue Game than I think any conference opponent gets for their biggest games,” head coach Sean Miller told the Daily Wildcat.
This is the third year in a row – yep, shortly after the arrival of Miller – that the ‘game’ has sold out. But this season the available seats were gobbled up more quickly because there are fewer seats to sell. An ongoing $30 million renovation to McKale Center has temporarily eliminated 4,545 seats and there is room for just about 10,000 fans for the Oct. 18 scrimmage. (Athletic Director Greg Byrne is quick to point out, however, that there are still some season tickets left for purchase – but not many.)
When the renovation is complete, there will actually be more seats than in the past as the seating capacity climbs to 14.688. And the old yellow seats will be gone so that the entire seating will be a sea of blue and red.
And this year the renovation work is certainly an added incentive for fans wanting to get an early peak at the face lift being given to the 42-year-old facility. Most of the work is done, including a new floor and upgrades to the lighting that will give the proud old lady a vibrant new look.
The men’s and women’s teams, including volleyball, will be able to take advantage of new locker room areas, and the coaches also get new locker rooms. A new film room, players’ lounge, and eating area have also been added, and gone are the days of cramped bathrooms and outdated concession areas to make the game experience much more enjoyable for the fans.
Work is still going on in the east concourse and parts of the arena renovations won’t be completed until the start of the first regular-season game on No. 14. And plans are to have new video boards above the courts ready to go by the first conference game on Jan. 2.
The renovation, which is just phase I of a total project that is expected to cost about $80 million, isn’t quite the same as moving into a brand new facility like the new $147 million Galen Center that USC put up eight years ago, or the $227 Knight Arena at Oregon that is just three years old.
But it will be hugely important in the recruiting process since facilities are always one of the top items considered by visiting recruiting prospects.
Of course, the Wildcats haven’t needed a new arena to draw in the nation’s top talent. Miller has put together a Top 10 recruiting class for the last three years. The current class that will be taking the floor in November includes Stanley Johnson and is top-rated in the Pac-12. Johnson is a McDonald’s All-American who was rated as the No. 1 small forward in the country coming out of high school.
And the Class of 2015 is already being considered by many observers as the best in the nation.
The reason the school can sell out a scrimmage months ahead of the season is a program that is quickly returning to the elite status enjoyed during 25 years under Lute Olson that included a national championship and four Final Four appearances.
Last season, the Cats won the regular season in the Pac-12, were ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation for a good portion of the schedule, and made it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. With the new arrivals coming on board, Miller will have a roster even deeper with talent than last year to handle the rigors of a deep run into the tourney, giving him a good chance to make it to his first Final Four – and perhaps even a shot at a national championship.
But that’s probably going to be the last opportunity for Wildcat fans to get a good look at Johnson, who will likely be a one-and-done that jumps into the 2015 NBA draft.
Keep in mind, though, there’s another crop of elite recruits coming in right behind him.
Maybe the need for that brand new arena isn’t that far off…