Sometimes older does not necessarily mean worse. Sometimes older is better.
We are a society obsessed with youth and the newest things. We all want new. New cars, new houses, new music, new platforms, new technology, new this and new that. However sometimes there is a great value in cherished traditions and institutions. There is a building that stands on campus that has been the object of scorn and admiration, many wishing for it to be torn down, while others wishing it will forever stand. Some hate the design and mock it, while others love the traditional basketball design. We are talking about The University Fieldhouse.
I think most people know the story. In the Fall of 1949, President James Gee (you know, the same guy who the library and lake are named after) announced plans for a new football stadium and basketball arena. When it was built, it was truly a site to behold. This massive arena was meant to look like the great college basketball fieldhouses that had been built such as Phog Allen Fieldhouse at The University of Kansas, or Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University. President Gee, along with Athletic Director Bob Berry, Coach Milburn Smith, and the Ex-Students association, put up the vast majority of the funds and also had a lot of input from alums. Their reasoning in building something so vast was that the Lion basketball team, which had won almost a dozen LSC Championships by that time and was about to win the big one in a few years, needed the a true arena. Back then, a Fieldhouse was considered a luxury for schools to have. Only the best Basketball schools had a Fieldhouse, and the Lions were worth the investment.
Over the years, the Fieldhouse has gotten older and not nearly as gleamingly new and great to look as it once was. Yes, renovations have happened, and the inside looks the best it has looked in a long time. However, the outside façade has been looking rough for a long time. There has been talk about replacing it the Fieldhouse for a long time. When I was an undergraduate, there was talk in 2006 about buying an open set of pasture land on Highway 224 west of campus that would field a brand new Football Stadium and Events Center. That never came to fruition despite being told that was what would happen (thanks for nothing, Carlton Cooper). Then, there was this proposal-
Former AD Ryan Ivey had a great idea that was part of the campus master plan under then-President Dan Jones. It would demolish the current fieldhouse and replace it with a modern version that would have the hanger style roof but make it look modern and also would connect it to the eastern part of Memorial Stadium. I liked this idea the best. This is what we were looking it having and it was due by 2016.
The reason this was preferrable was because it would have killed two birds with one stone. The entire stadium would have been redone without having to knock down the west side, and the east side would have provided media boxes, luxury boxes, and so much more. I remember when Ryan Ivey showed this to me, I was ECSTATIC. However when he moved on to Austin Peay University and Dr Jones sadly passed away, this was put on the back burner from what I remember.
Then we had this next proposal, which I think would have been just as great. When Dr. Ray Keck became President, he presented an new idea. The Fieldhouse would be demolished and totally rebuilt and look something like this-
Outside Specs of the Event Center in 2017/2018.
The inside specs of the arena.
So, I believe that it is safe to say that with Dr. Keck having retired and Tim McMurray having moved on to greener pastures, this one is probably dead as of now. Modern? Yes. Would it have been great? Absolutely. This one looks like its down the river and not coming back.
So, it looks like we are still with this. Old faithful. She has been through 71 years of great games, concerts, basketball and volleyball camps, and of course graduations. She has been around a long time and is still standing, so if you ask me, we should keep her, but if we are going to keep her around, let’s give her some TLC. Here is what I would like to see-
First, the outside of the Fieldhouse is what needs the most attention. A new brick facade on the outside would greatly help with way the Fieldhouse looks. When I think of that, I think of something that looks somewhat like Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse-
Call me a dreamer, but I think we could pull this one off. Just like I have advocated for bricking the outside façade of Hawkins Field at Memorial Stadium to make the outside look better, lets do the same and make the brick pattern similar to the new buildings that have been built recently on campus, like the Rayburn Memorial Student Center. Next, I would like to see the banners back at the Fieldhouse walls. Now, I did get the reason why they were changed. Tim McMurray had told me that there was no “rhyme or reason” for how the banners used to hang and he was 100% correct. Rather he felt that putting up mural like signs, similar to what they have at another facility that Tim had visited. Here just my opinion (sorry Tim, gonna part company with you on this one) regarding the banners. I am a Basketball traditionalist. I do agree that we needed to get rid of the all the excess banners for sports like Football, Track, Tennis, Soccer, Softball, and Golf. They don’t call the Fieldhouse home, but we have had more than enough success on the hardwood in Basketball to hang TONS of banners for Men’s Basketball on one side, while on the other side, our Volleyball program and emerging Women’s program could share a space for now while both get more banners up, and with Jason Burton hanging around for another few years, we will have banners for Women’s basketball and will for Volleyball as well. I would also like to see Devin Oliver’s and Aubrey Butts’ numbers retired by the athletic department. These dearly departed and lovely young Women started a winning culture and when the final books are written on Lion Women’s Basketball, they will be at the forefront. I would like to see their jerseys retired forever and hung from the Fieldhouse right by the banners. If I had an ability to draw, I would show you what I mean, but that is a bridge too far. Finally, I would like to see the 1955 National Championship Men’s trophy on display, as well as the 2007 Women’s Regional Championship Trophy. Add some extra internal renovations, and we have exactly what we need for an events center.
I am a basketball purist, and with all the years that this venerated arena has given to us, its time to give her some more years and some tender loving care. She may be old, but she is faithful, and that is all we could ask for.
Epilogue-Speaking of faithful, let’s put a name on it. The James Gee Fieldhouse. Just like the building, he has been mocked and scorned but that building would not exist if it was not for him. If you are going to strip a good Man’s name from two landmarks, give him at least one back.