There are only a handful of days left before Gunner Kiel and the Cincinnati Bearcats storm into Nippert Stadium and rip Alabama A&M limb from limb. However, that doesn't mean the powers that be are done renovating the athletic facilities. This fall, attention will shift away from the hallowed grounds at 2700 Bearcat Way to the hardwood at 2700 O'Varsity Way.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, UC is close to approving a plan for renovations that could cost anywhere between $70 million and $85 million. That is an awful lot of duckets. If the plan is approved, Mick Cronin and his crew will be out of a home for the 2016-17 season and then return the following year. Renovations in the new plan include installation of permanent seats rather than bleachers, which would be a major improvement. After all, Cincinnati is one of the premier basketball programs in the American Athletic Conference, the Midwest region and, depending on who you ask, the country as a whole. Having the same types of seats that you'd find at a big high school gym isn't helping raise the esteem of the program. In addition to new seats, a new roof and improvements to lighting are in the proposed plan.
While we won't even find out if the plan is approved until later this month (or so predicts the Enquirer), it is never too early to start dreaming of what the new arena could offer and where the Bearcats will play during their one year away from home.
The court design is not mentioned in the proposal, but unveiling a renovated stadium wouldn't be complete without a little aesthetic upgrade. With some of the exceptional court designs that are featured throughout the country, including some rather dapper looking ones in the AAC, Cincinnati could certainly use a makeover.
Let's start at half court. The tried and true 'C' logo with paw prints has always been lovely, but what if the the center of the court featured the menacing eye logo inside a black half court circle? Would that be something you'd be interested in? I know I would. I'd also love to see a little more color on the court itself, especially considering how strong Cincinnati's color scheme is. Anyway, these are just suggestions, but it isn't all that crazy to think that when the renovations are complete there might be some new designs in the mix.
But deciding on logos for the floor is far in the future. Assuming this plan goes through, the more pressing issue is figuring out where the Bearcats will play while construction occurs.
The most obvious choice is U.S. Bank Arena. The Bearcats played in the downtown forum for a little more than a decade between 1976-87 before moving to Fifth Third. In addition, the stadium is currently trying to round up funds for its own renovation and part of the plan is to actually lure Cincinnati basketball away from Fifth Third. Getting Bearcat basketball is an integral part of the arena's proposal.
"I would love to be able to go to the University of Cincinnati board with a competing proposal to what they currently have," Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann told the Cincinnati Business Courier. "A partnership with UC is the critical piece."
The capacity (17,000) is a bit of a leap from the current holdings of Fifth Third (13,176). That might not be an egregious problem. Since 2011, the Bearcats have steadily drawn more and more spectators, especially during non-conference tilts. According to Cincy on the Prowl, Cincinnati averaged 9,334 fans per game last season, the best number during the Mick Cronin era. However, the Bearcats only drew a little more than 10,000 onlookers in their last game at U.S. Bank, and that was against Xavier in December of 2013. If two teams with ties to the city can't pack the house, how likely is it that Cincinnati will be able to do it alone when teams like Tulane and UCF come to town? Not very.
Another option, and forgive me for even mentioning it, is the Cintas Center. Now, I am not privy to the specific financial ramifications of all of these decisions, but it is a venue that is used to putting on major college basketball games. Of course, there are some major roadblocks. Cincinnati and Xavier would have to coordinate schedules and there's the fact that Xavier is lame, or so says this totally unbiased observer.
If the Cintas Center proves to be too much of a hassle, there is the possibility that Millett Hall in Oxford could be an alternative. It is less than an hour drive from Cincinnati, but it has a number of shortcomings as well, including small capacity (6,400) and the fact that the Bearcats would once again have to contend with another team's schedule (Miami-Ohio).
Expanding the scope of the search out further doesn't bring many other strong possibilities, as so many of the arenas is the vicinity of southern Ohio are the homes of other colleges.
Really, the place that makes the most sense is U.S. Bank, but that could lead to some awkward financial maneuvering as both it and Fifth Third have plans to renovate with Cincinnati basketball at the center of it all. We'll just have to stay tuned to see how it all plays out.