In the past year I've become a bit more of an active participant on Rock M Nation, whether it be live threads, links discussions or #SECBASKETBALLFEVER.
In that time I've made it quite clear that I do not care for Vanderbilt's home court, and I dislike it for so many reasons. What those reasons are, and I will detail them below (whether silly or smart) all can stem from the fact that I believe in sport, order and rules are in place to hopefully ensure a result without dispute.
In sport, our games are played on the same field, court, pitch, road, track, the dimensions are the same for both teams, or for each individual. Regardless of where you are, whether you are a visitor or this is your "home" the only advantage that has been created has either been based on the effect your fans can have on a game, or in some cases those of the atmospheric nature. That is, except in Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of Vanderbilt University.
Let's just move through the atmospheric ones quickly because no matter how you feel about Coors field and the dead air at a mile high, or the pollution that can choke you out at Estadio Azteca, or the forthcoming hundred degree heat with no clouds in Qatar, these are geographical issues that man has yet to control.
With that said, the home court advantage that the University of Vanderbilt receives through the set up of their arena upsets the individual in me that enjoys order, that enjoys fairness, and that does not care for disorder for the sake of it. What's interesting is that when you hear about the best home court advantages in college basketball you never really hear much about Vanderbilt, until ESPN makes up a theme week (home court hoops week anyone?). You hear about the Cameron Crazies and Duke, The Pit where the Lobos play, The Carrier Dome, and Assembly Hall at Indiana. From a Mizzou fan standpoint I think we could all agree that Gallagher Iba was always tough, going to "The Octagon" in Manhattan and of course trips to lawrence, but none of those home courts were NCAA sanctioned changes to the way the game of basketball is supposed to be played, the advantages were based on an active student body, and a good rowdy crowd. Being new to the SEC what I've seen of other arenas (aside from Vanderbilt's) Ole Miss, and Mississippi State seem to like a darker arena (maybe they have electrical problems), and LSU has some hideous two toned center court Tiger from the 80s but that's all that sticks out. Give us some time and I'll have a fanshot for all of you guys.
That brings us to the point of this post, why I despise Vanderbilt's home court and why it should probably fixed:
- The team benches
We all have that first moment where we knew we loved something, a piece of music, a painting, hell your spouse/partner, well for the moment I saw how Vanderbilt set up the benches under the baskets instead of using the sidelines (as is currently required by Section 21 of the NAIA basketball rules that govern NCAA basketball) it was hate and confusion and rage at first sight. See at Vanderbilt instead of teams sitting on a sideline where coaches can coach their team bringing the ball up the court and have an unobstructed view of the game, Vanderbilt has their benches set up at the opposite end of court under and to the side of the basket. The set up means that as a coach there's a good chance that you're not going to be able to see what's actually happening at one end of the court during the game. To put it bluntly this set up is asinine and infuriating. What that means is that in 99% of the games your team is playing in the rules of basketball exist, except that one time you have the misfortune of going to Vanderbilt. I spent some time today looking through the history of Memorial Gymnasium wondering why that place is set up as it is and basically Vanderbilt didn't really think when the arena was built that they wanted to have sports. They considered de-emphasizing sports (not the worst thing for an institution of higher learning I suppose) so as a compromise they built the center part of the arena as a stage raised above seating level (rage level mounting) thus ensuring that when basketball would be played having teams set up on the sidelines would result in obstructed views, and not the in cute way at the Boston Garden, but for everyone. As a result of this, the geniuses at Vanderbilt stuck the teams on opposite ends of the court and we have the mess we have today now 60 odd years later. This is a tremendous homecourt advantage for Vanderbilt and one that is patently unfair to anyone that has to go play there. It's not allowed to occur ANYWHERE else in the NCAAs and wouldn't if a new arena was constructed based on the rules linked above. Take all that out of the equation, it is a monstrosity, it's terrible to watch on television, apparently not great in person and a nightmare to coach at. Just ask A&M's Billy Kennedy whose team lost a game this year because he could neither see his player being trapped, nor could he call a timeout to put in a new play, and if he had wanted to call in a play he'd have had to snuck in a bullhorn so that his team could hear him, you know, coach them.
- A Raised Court
I am baffled that the NCAA has embraced this concept, seen in such places at the University of Minnesota, and any NCAA tournament venue once you get to the final four, and also apparently the elite 8. At Vanderbilt the court is raised, again as stated in point 1 because Vanderbilt's decision makers just weren't sure if they wanted to have basketball there or concerts, or both. So the court is elevated and you can see fans leaning on the floor banging on it like a bunch of little Wojos (is there anything more irritating than that? Oh yeah this whole arena) when Vanderbilt might get a win or the fans are instructed to be loud. This gripe is more of an aesthetic one, just watch a game and it'll grate on you as well. Vanderbilt has more foul territory than any arena in the NCAA because of this set up. One day some player is going to go after a loose ball full bore (think Justin Gage vs UCLA in 2002), lose their balance and go head first into these students, potentially hurting themselves or one of the little court bangers. WHY WON'T ANYONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!
- The Shot Clocks
This is kind of a funny thing to get upset about, but at Vanderbilt, again because of the way they put this court together on a raised floor they can't have their shot clocks on top of the backboard (again as required by the NAIA and as a result the NCAA) because it would impact sight lines of those poor people that have the pleasure of sitting behind the basket at a certain level. So again to fix a problem that shouldn't have existed in the first place the shot clocks at Vanderbilt have to sit at the side of the basket. As a visiting player you can't hear your coach, you've got a bunch of amped up little wojos banging on the court and now you've got to adjust where you're looking for the clock that shows you how much time you have left to get a shot off because of indecisiveness from the 50s. Now, there is a little bit of I guess you'd say karma here because as you may recall in January of 2013 Vanderbilt lost a game to Kentucky because of a shot that went up and in by Nerlens Noel after the shot clock had hit zero but no one seemed to notice. It was so odd that both Reece Davis and Bobby Knight were confused and had no idea what happened. Check it out here if you don't recall how this all went down.
For these three reasons do I despise Vanderbilt's court, court design and general way it carries itself (that's right, it's general attitude.) Could these issues be addressed to bring Vanderbilt into today's day and time? Of course, it could be done in an afternoon. Just cut out some of that wide open space they have in foul territory and have the team benches on the sidelines like they do at Minnesota, give the coaches stool if they prefer to sit while coaching and that brings most things back to even. What also would work would be to revamp the entire building, spend the year playing at the Bridgestone Arena downtown and return the next year to your new, non terribly set up home.
Would that appease me? Maybe, it would certainly take a lot of wind out of my sails argument wise, but I'm sure I'd find something to be irritated about, come on, I've got to be me. While this is somewhat tongue in cheek just imagine if other schools were allowed to adjust how visiting teams were set up when coming playing on the road. You don't think Nick Saban wouldn't have Auburn's team sitting under the goal post or in the crowd if he could, using the excuse that that's just the way the field was set up and he can't do a thing about it?
Is any change forthcoming? Not as long as the NCAA or the SEC continue to not have a problem with this set up. It appears that outside of Andy Kennedy none of the other coaches in the SEC are really saying anything I suppose because it only has to affect their season at most once a year and potentially never.
I leave this to you to make what you want of it, you can agree or disagree but at the end of the day the NCAA has sanctioned a distinct advantage for one team in the entire NCAA all because in 1952 some school administrators couldn't make up their mind about sports and their impact down the line. So kudos to you non forward thinking Vanderbilt administrators, 62 years later your building continues to stand as a memorial to your indecisiveness.