Graziano: Games at First Union Center right on the money

Christopher A. Smith

Everyone makes mistakes, and I did last year when I wrote that Villanova should play all its home games at the Pavilion.

Another year has made me that much wiser.

Ever since its inception in 1986, the Pavilion, often nicknamed, “The Ski Lodge,” has been dubbed one of the worst architecturally structured basketball arenas in the country.

However, the Villanova men’s basketball team has compiled an impressive winning percentage there. Last season, the team posted a 13-3 record at the Pavilion.

Naturally, one of the most controversial issues among the men’s basketball program is the subject of games being played at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, home of the NBA’s 76ers. Two or three times each year, the Wildcats travel 30 minutes into the city to play some of the more attractive opponents on the home schedule.

While students complain that the commute is unfair, and all games should be played at the Pavilion, one cannot ignore the financial gains experienced by the basketball program, the athletic department and the University as a result of contests played in Philadelphia.

So should the men’s basketball team continue to play games at the First Union Center? Not only should they continue to play there, but they should play there more often.

Fans argue that if last year’s game against UCLA was not played at the Pavilion, then Villanova would not have pulled off the upset. Well it is impossible to say that, because the game was not played at the First Union Center.

My argument for increased games at the First Union Center can be illustrated by looking at another Big East team’s home court situation. That team is the St. John’s Red Storm.

This season the Red Storm will play 13 home games. Eight of those games will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York City, approximately 30 minutes from the Queens campus of St. John’s. The remaining five games will be played on campus at Alumni Hall.

The eight games being played at MSG include six of eight Big East contests and two of five out of conference games, including Duke.

The Big East games being played on campus are against Providence and Virginia Tech, the two teams predicted to finish sixth and seventh in the East Division, respectively.

The reason for this set-up is that St. John’s realizes the financial rewards of playing big games at an arena that holds over 19,000 fans, as opposed to one that holds about 6,000.

And by the way, the Red Storm went 14-1 last year in all home games, with the lone loss coming at Alumni Hall.

It would be a great idea for Villanova to adopt the same type of format. I am guessing that more than 6,500 fans were interested in seeing the ‘Cats play UCLA last year, and they would have been able to if the game was played at the First Union Center.

The average attendance for last year’s three games played at the First Union Center was 13,269, more than twice the capacity of the Pavilion. And the ‘Cats record was 2-1 against teams that averaged 23 wins last year.

The move would also solve the problem of a half-full Pavilion during University breaks.

If Villanova fans are as die-hard as they claim to be, then a 30-minute ride by car, bus or train should not be a problem. The facility is so much more sensible from a basketball standpoint. It is an attractive arena for recruits, and playing there strengthens ‘Nova’s relationship with the city.

In the long run the move would make more fans happy, and would bring more money into the athletic department. And it would not come at the expense of success.