Lee Kunkel (@Kunkel5)
In Division I college basketball, there are a few things a program needs to be a sustainable contender year in and year out. Facilities are high on that list.
Last October 19, Lafayette College announced that its Kirby Sports Center arena would undertake a $1.7 million renovation. New LED score tables, HD video scoreboards, new bleachers, chair back seating; a true overhaul.
The Leopards’ program got its upgrade, and in a league that features a slew of mid-major powers such as Bucknell, Lehigh–and newly added Loyola (Md.) and Boston University–this will go a long way in recruiting, and improving the image of the program.
“It’s a huge shot in the arm for our program and athletic department,” Leopards head coach Fran O’Hanlon told CoBL. “It helps with recruiting; helps raise the prestige around campus, which is great. We have a beautiful campus, and now we have a top class arena to go along with it.”
Last year, Lafayette went 19-15 overall, including a 10-4 mark in the Patriot League. The Leopards advanced to the league championship game, falling 64-56 at Bucknell.
While the HD scoreboard and LED score table are the flashy upgrades, the biggest long term investment is the seating bowl. The seating in the sections along each sideline will be brand new chairback seating replacing the old wooden bleachers. In addition, new bleacher seating will be added at each baseline–including the far baseline from the entrance, which previously had no bleachers at all.
This will give the Kirby Sports Center an “arena” and get away from the high-school gym feel by closing the court with seating all the way around–and what better spot for a student section than behind the basket?
“The bleacher seats behind the baskets are great. It will completely enclose the court, and give it an arena feel,” O’Hanlon said. “The students have a place to stand and make noise, hold signs up when the other team is shooting free throws. We’ve always had a good home court advantage, this will only add to it.”
On top of that, two rows of premium seating will also be added on the floor, adding a “VIP” experience to the Kirby Sports Center. According to the Lafayette athletic department, these seats–along with the chair-back seats–are open to anybody, though season ticket holders will get first priority. The capacity of the arena will change to 2,650 from 3,500 to accommodate the 1,462 chair back seats and 1,188 bleacher seats.
“I think the smaller capacity is a good thing. It will make the premium games more exclusive, and will hopefully increase season tickets because people will want to reserve their seat,” O’Hanlon said.
When will the Lafayette Leopards get to show off their new shiny home? November 12, when defending NEC regular season champs Robert Morris comes to Easton, Pa.
“It should be a great night for the school,” O’Hanlon said. “[RMU coach] Andy (Toole) coached on my staff a few years back. He’s a great guy, and you never like playing your friends but it’s hard to get quality opponents to come to your place.”
The Leopards open up their season four days earlier, Nov. 8, at Villanova.