The contract the University of Kentucky has with downtown Lexington’s Rupp Arena will end before this decade is out. Many want an on-campus arena constructed instead of a new downtown facility.
Aside from luxury suits and state of the art sound and video equipment, what would set a new UK basketball arena above the rest?
The popularity of Wildcats basketball has long allowed for the biggest arenas to be built in its name. UK played in Alumni Gym between 1924 and 1950 regularly drawing nearly 3,000 fans.
Memorial Coliseum, which seated 12,000 people, was built in 1950 and at the time boasted the largest basketball facility in the South.
Rupp Arena’s construction in the 1970s brought regular crowds of 23,000 to see Kentucky basketball games.
The University of Kentucky packed 23,000 fans in Rupp Arena for ESPN’s College Gameday this year.
Meanwhile Syracuse attracted nearly 34,000 for its game against Villanova the last weekend in February.
Could Kentucky build a multipurpose football and basketball dome? Commonwealth Stadium was renovated a decade ago and seats more than 64,000 but shows signs of age.
I don't think getting fans there would be a problem. Kentucky was part of the now-second largest crowd ever to witness a baskeball game -- the 2003 Basketbowl between UK and Michigan State at Detroit's Ford Field. (That crowd of 78,000 was surpassed by the 2010 NBA All-Star Game's 108,000 at the NFL's Cowboy Stadium.)
Kentucky regularly ranks either first or second nationally in college basketball attendance, oftentimes just behind Syracuse, which has a lot more seats to work with.
With no professional team in the state, Kentucky basketball is the pro franchise. Fans are rabid. “They’re like small-market Red Sox fans,” ESPN’s Michael Smith once said.
If UK built a domed stadium similar to Syracuse it would almost certainly draw upwards of 40,000 a game if it configures the stadium for it.
If any program could do it, Kentucky can.
Follow Derek on Twitter: @derekpoore