Game 110: Ohio 71, at Rhode Island 63 Saturday, December 10, 2005
Ryan Center - Kingston, RI
If you skiied through high school English with yellow Cliff's Notes strapped to your feet, or if you received the bulk of your literary education on the can from "Don't Know Much About Books" books, you probably think Dante Aligheri was all about circles of hell and sinners buried in their own excrement.
But the Divine Comedy is, in fact, a trilogy - hell, purgatory and paradise. To Dante, Purgatory was a steep mountain, its foot at the mouth of hell and its pinnacle at the gates of heaven. This is where folks would work off their seven deadlies, ascending up through seven terraces on the way to kingdom come.
This is what I think about as I sit in the steep facing of cheap seats of the two-year-old Ryan Center. I look down at the tiny specks running around on the floor far below, the rowdy student section seated courtside across from the television cameras. The Ryan a sparkling new building just off the campus of the University of Rhode Island
, with 7,000 seats, carpeted concourses, a Pepsi Tower, and all the modern big-city arena amenities. There's a pregame light show, a fully-catered press room, a bank of finely-appointed luxury boxes.
But I imagine that underneath the floor, there's a sort of Inferno that the school is trying desperately to pave over and escape from. The Atlantic 14, URI's conference, is somewhat of a basketball Purgatorio - it resides in that in-between world between what member schools and fans consider to be mid-major hell, and a desired seat in amongst the riches of power-conference heaven.
And that's when I notice the banner hanging from the far-end mezzanine - it's the logo of Global Spectrum, the holding company that runs the primary basketball venues in South Philadelphia, the Bank-Of-The-Month Center and whatever they're calling The Spectrum now. The accompanying corporate slogan seems somewhat out of place in rural Rhode Island. "How YOU Doin'?"
Well, actually, I'm not sure. I feel kind of, well, in between... no closer to heaven than before.
The frayed edges of URI's basketball paradise start showing on the outside of the sparkling arena. It's miles from any major highway, connected to the mainline of Interstate 95 by one-lane, twisting 25-mph residential roads. Approaching the arena, other disconnects appear - failures to communicate between local law enforcement officials and student volunteers."Turn around. You can't park here.""But this is the lot that that police officer told me to go to.""Well, the officer's wrong."
It's not uncommon for larger arenas to feature unhelpful and unfriendly arena employees who don't have any connection whatsoever to the homestanding school - "we just work here" is expected in the ACC, but it seems jarringly out of place in the A-10. And so do six-dollar sodas.
I certainly don't resent URI's expensive venue and expensive amenities - it's a very nice place. But history has shown (in the pros, anyway) that the novelty wears off after a while. It's going to be difficult for a school at this level to compete with the other schools that have arenas like this, and power-conference facilities foster power-conference expectations. Folks will demand championships and deep tourney runs in return for their investment - when they don't get them, they'll stop coming to pay the high prices. (And the Dave Matthews Band only comes around once a year, so you can't rely on them to fill the place regularly.)
Mid-major life is scrapping over a single Tournament bid; power-conference existence is being drooled over by Dick Vitale, playing your final games of the season in front of 90,000 spectators in a dome. Anybody who follows college basketball knows which reality the A-14 lives in these days. There's just no way that URI will live up to their building anytime soon, unless the school turned in its collective soul and NCAA-violated its way to glory.
And in Dante's world, the penalty for falsifiers and impersonators is a spot in Circle 8, Ditch 10.