Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
Earlier today, JMU tweeted about the capacity of the new basketball area, which opens next season.
The tweet got me thinking. My first thought: just seeing 8,500 seats in writing blows my mind.
8,500 seats? For the current basketball programs?? That seems outlandish.
A bit of research shows that 8,500 seats might be outlandish. At least with the current state of JMU hoops.
Women’s basketball is headed in the right direction under Sean O’Regan, but even the women’s team suffers from a lack of interest in CAA games. The Dukes easily lead the conference in attendance, but bringing 2,000+ people to games doesn’t necessitate an 8,500-seat arena.
So what gives? Is the new arena a mistake?
Well, no. Building the new arena will attract fans who want to watch a game in the new venue. The Convocation Center, while home to many cherished memories, is dimly lit and looks more like a beautiful high-school arena than a top-tier NCAA basketball arena.
It’s time for a change. The new, state-of-the-art facility is going to be a fantastic venue. Fans will enjoy watching games there, and students/professionals should love the concerts and conventions held at the location.
In terms of basketball, recruits may actually be impressed by the arena. It’s hard to imagine the current venue acting as a recruiting pitch. The new arena will help excite elite talent to come to JMU.
That’s important. And necessary.
The women’s team already lands talented recruits. Imagine their potential with the new arena added as a recruiting pitch.
On the flip side, the men’s basketball team is in a state of disarray. The Dukes are 42-74 overall and 20-41 in CAA play under Louis Rowe.
Everyone, from fans to media members, know Rowe’s seat is hot. The Dukes need a fantastic finish to the season for Rowe to return next year to open the new arena.
Don’t quite count Rowe out, though. By all accounts, he’s a great guy. While it seems unlikely, if the Dukes rattle off five-straight wins or six wins in their next seven games, the conversation around Rowe will change drastically.
If the team somehow finds a way to finish in the top half of the CAA and makes a conference tournament run, he’ll make a very strong case to return for the senior seasons of Matt Lewis, Darius Banks and Dwight Wilson.
And if JMU does finish with something like 17 wins or more, he deserves serious consideration to return. He’s a decent recruiter who appears willing — based on some of the assistant coaches he brought in over the offseason — to receive help as a coach. There’s talent on the team, and if the wins flow in as the season comes to a close, JMU should consider sticking with its guy.
Sometimes the long game pays off, especially when it comes to a committed alumnus leading the program.
If the wins don’t come in, there’s a strong case to move on. But let’s at least wait for the end of the year and see if a miracle lies on the horizon. The best solution for JMU, in the short term, is to win with Rowe.
And don’t discount Jeff Bourne’s commitment to Rowe. He released a statement last year, and part of that statement said:
“Few coaches pour their heart and soul into a program like Louis Rowe. He has the support of our student-athletes, our incoming recruits and our letterwinners. It is also worth mentioning the significant progress that our program has achieved in the classroom, which is a testament to the young men Coach Rowe has attracted to our program. We look forward to seeing what this team has in store next year.”
Bourne believes in Rowe, and he also believes experienced rosters lead to mid-major success. He’s correct. The Dukes return plenty of experience next season, and it’s easy to see how Bourne could form a compelling argument to give Rowe one more year.
Don’t count him out, JMU fans.
Regardless of whether Rowe returns, it’s time for JMU to get serious about men’s basketball. O’Regan is a great leader for the women’s team, and the Dukes look the part of a team capable of not only making the NCAA Tournament, but winning a game or two. It’s an elite mid-major team.
Men’s basketball, however, hasn’t been relevant in decades. JMU fans are apathetic. It’s been so bad for so long that fans barely even care what happens at this point.
The low attendance stems from a general lack of interest. Nobody changes their schedules to attend men’s basketball games like they do for football. Few people go out of their way to even watch the games on TV. Those that do probably wish they didn’t.
It doesn’t matter who coaches the team next season. JMU needs to win. It’s that simple.
The men’s basketball program needs to be better for JMU to reach its athletic potential. A bad men’s basketball team greatly diminishes the overall success of an unbelievably good athletic department.
From football to softball to lacrosse, the Dukes dominate. When it comes to men’s basketball — a sport capable of building the school’s national perception and bringing in money — the Dukes fall flat. They have for decades.
With an expensive and large arena opening next season, Jeff Bourne and JMU need to get serious about building a winning men’s basketball program.
Either that, or they should look into buying tarps to cover the thousands of empty seats that will fill the Atlantic Union Bank Center on game day.