DePaul has long played its men's home basketball games at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, a 17,500-seat arena approximately 30 minutes from their Chicago campus. The Blue Demons moved their games off-campus in 1980 when the arena was built, leaving behind an on-campus arena of just over 5,000 seats. That on-campus facility was later torn down and replaced with the 3,00o-seat gym that serves as home for the women's basketball and volleyball programs.
Now flush with revenue from six seasons in the Big East, the Blue Demons are talking about plans to build a 10-12,000 seat arena on campus — or at least nearby in their Lincoln Park neighborhood.
DePaul has made the NCAA tournament just 13 times in 32 seasons since moving their men's basketball games to Rosemont, including their most-recent string of futile seasons. Many observers have drawn conclusions connecting those two phenomenon and the only solution is to move games back on campus.
Would moving back on campus bring in the fans, or more-importantly, the recruits?
Villanova has also moved games off-campus to an arena just a little further away than Allstate is from DePaul. While DePaul has struggled, Villanova only seems to have benefited from the arrangement. The Wildcats set the record for attendance at a college basketball game in Pennsylvania at the Wells Fargo Center, and they have had consistent sell-out crowds at the on-campus Pavilion.
What is the difference?
At least three factors work in Villanova's favor with off-campus games. First, the Wildcats have moved their games from the suburbs to the city, making it easier for fans and alumni to get to games. DePaul moved their team from the city to a nearby suburb. Second, the Wildcats have only a part-time arrangement off-campus, allowing them to move just the 3-to-5 most-popular contests to the higher-capacity Wells Fargo Center, rather than attempting to fill 17,000 seats for contests with less-compelling opponents as DePaul does. Finally and most importantly, Villanova has not had the same long-term competitive futility that DePaul has suffered through.
DePaul isn't the only school with plans to improve on-campus basketball facilities. UCF has a brand-new arena, Southern Methodist and Houston are both spending approximately $40 million to renovate their facilities, and USF is in the final stages of their own $35 million renovation of the Sun Dome. Even locally, Drexel has announced plans to renovate the DAC. Those renovations increase capacity, add luxury suites, concessions and video boards that create a game day product more comparable to professional competition.
Villanova's situation isn't perfect, however, the Pavilion was opened in 1986 at a cost of almost $25 million and was almost-immediately criticized. The arena was too small to fit a full-sized indoor track inside, and a strange roof configuration limited seating capacity and affected ambiance. In house concessions are also sub-par.
With a capacity of 6,500 at the on-campus arena and a season ticket waiting list currently in the thousands, the demand far exceeds Villanova's current ability to capitalize on that. In an ideal world, every member of the waiting list would be able to buy a season ticket and make the larger compulsory donation to the university as well. As it stands, the University is limited to selling around 5,000 full-season tickets.
To that end, athletics department sources claim, Villanova has been working on plans for a "heavily renovated" Pavilion or even a brand-new on-campus arena. Details are scarce and the idea is very much in its infancy at this point.
The university has prioritized the $200 million campus expansion along Lancaster Avenue and might not want to ask Radnor Township to approve a larger traffic-producing athletic facility right now. While the Wells Fargo Center is available to the Wildcats, there is no desperate need for such expansion.
Maybe the addition of Temple University, and its 10,200-seat Liacouras Center to the Big East conference could accelerate Villanova's plans. The Wildcats currently still have at least partial exclusivity as a college program at the Wells Fargo Center, which means access to the best basketball arena in the region. The need for an immediate on-campus advantage is lessened.
Will Villanova eventually join the on-campus building phenomenon? The ambition exists, but so did the ambition to construct a 25-40,000 seat football stadium in 1955. That stadium expansion never transpired, so despite the internal ambition to build nothing should be considered a done-deal until the contractors and architects are hired.