Published Saturday, October 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm / Updated at 10:30 pm
Athletics
Off-floor perks seen for UNO arena

The proposed UNO arena would, to varying degrees, give the four programs most affected by the new building advantages they don't currently have.

And that's before anyone comes to watch.

UNO plans to propose a 7,500-seat arena on the south end of its campus, with an estimated price of $65 million to $80 million, to the Nebraska Board of Regents at its Friday meeting.

If approved, the arena would eventually serve as home to UNO's hockey, men's and women's basketball and volleyball programs.

Beyond the possibility to help drive revenue for hockey and men's basketball, UNO hopes the arena would also improve student-athletes' experiences, while providing an asset that students and the public could also use and enjoy.

“The prism through which each sport and administrator looks is different, but the broader view is that the impact would be absolutely substantial to every program (in the department),” UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts said. “It would help show a commitment. It would give students and alumni something they haven't had in the past. And it would elevate and advance the brand of Maverick athletics.”

For hockey, the department's flagship sport, the behind-the-scenes benefits might stand out most.

“There's a lot of different things that it would help,” hockey coach Dean Blais said. “There's more revenue, sure, but there's also more opportunity to go over and skate on ice that isn't being rented out to others.”

No longer would Blais' team have to drive downtown to practice at the CenturyLink Center.

Not only that, there are plenty of times currently — since UNO shares the facility with Creighton basketball and other events — that the players drive to their CenturyLink locker room, then drive to another location (Civic Auditorium or Motto McLean Arena) to practice, then reverse tracks before heading home.

Having ice on campus would surely cut down on commute time and leave more time for, say, studying — or at the very least, skills-sharpening.

“When I was at North Dakota, Zach Parise (now in the NHL) and some of those guys would go over (to the rink) before classes at 8 or 9 (a.m.) and would work for a half-hour or 45 minutes, shooting some pucks before going to class,” Blais said. “Right now, there's just not a lot of opportunities to use open ice.”

UNO has consistently been one of the highest-drawing hockey programs in the country, ranking fourth last season in attendance with an average of 7,864 per game.

The CenturyLink Center is an impressive facility that wows potential hockey recruits. However, the new on-campus ice would likely have similar appeal when compared to most venues nationally.

Meanwhile, UNO men's basketball coach Derrin Hansen has the best of both worlds — a new arena to move into next month, and a proposal for another new arena on campus down the road.

The basketball Mavs open play in the new, 3,500-seat Ralston Sports and Event Center on Nov. 9. They will play there for at least the four years they are contractually obligated to do so.

“We're really happy to be partnered with Ralston right now,” Hansen said. “They've done a great job for us — we have our own locker room, players' lounge, coaches' office. It's a first-rate facility, and we're fortunate to be a part of it.”

Though UNO coaches and officials haven't experienced all Summit League sites in person, the general consensus is that the Ralston arena is among the league's best.

UNO continues to have its men's basketball practices on campus at the venerable Sapp Fieldhouse, where both the women's basketball and volleyball programs practice and play.

In fact, even the 63-year-old fieldhouse, where capacity has been dialed back to 2,500 over the years, is considered somewhat competitive compared to Summit League peers.

A new arena could tip the recruiting scales toward UNO, which sells prospective athletes on its academics and its city (only Indiana-Purdue-Indianapolis and Missouri-Kansas City are bigger), among other attributes.

“At the end of the day, they are still picking the school, the city, the staff and their teammates,” women's basketball coach Chance Lindley said. “But having the facility would be an added bonus. I don't think it would be the only selling point, but it would definitely be a nice addition.”

Alberts said there's still much work to be done.

“It's easy to look at tangible things like revenue,” he said. “It's much harder to define the intrinsic value of a facility, but I think that's significant. University-wide, it's a game-changer. The perception piece is addressed, and all the other benefits would follow.”

Contact the writer:

402-444-1027, rob.white@owh.com; twitter.com/RWhiteOWH

     Area arenas competing for events

Contact the writer: Rob White

rob.white@owh.com    |   402-444-1027    |  

Rob White covers University of Nebraska at Omaha sports and the Omaha Storm Chasers.

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