On Replacing the Carrier Dome

While the summer respite from the cold and snow is always welcome, this is the worst time of the year to be a Syracuse-area sports fan. While the Chiefs may continue to plug away in the shadow of Destiny USA, this is a basketball town and we're two months removed from SU's Final Four run. It's a local sports dead-zone until football season starts (unless you manage to tunnel into training camp).

Perhaps this is why we always seem to end up debating the future of the Carrier Dome around this time of the year.

I get it. Rehashing old conversations is as good as it gets in July. But, the truth is, it just isn't a useful conversation to have right now.

Yes, Syracuse will have to replace the Dome one day. Like everything else in the cosmos, the Carrier Dome part of the battle to resist entropy and, of course, that vague concept of “progress.” The Dome will eventually lose this battle.

That day is still far off in the future though. The only thing the Dome truly lacks these days is novelty.

Consider the words of Jim Boeheim, whose opinion on this matter should really carry more weight than anyone else's:

“You build a new basketball arena, then you've got a basketball arena, just like everybody else has,” Boeheim said. “We have a unique building. And it's in good shape. I'm not sure there's a reason.”

I'm not much of a traditionalist, so when the day does come to replace the Dome, you won't find me pointing to its illustrious past as a reason for keeping it around. The Dome's appeal is still very much a part of the present. There are few buildings in college basketball that enjoy the kind of prestige the Dome has. That is not something that can be rebuilt overnight.

Young basketball players drool about the thought of coming to Syracuse and playing in front of 33,000 people. Just look at the overall success the program has enjoyed in recent years. You don't earn a two number-one seeds and a trip to the final four in just a few years without recruiting great talent. Even if a new arena could match the capacity of the Carrier Dome (and it almost certainly would not, unless they continued to share a domed stadium with the football team), it would not be the building that recruits grew up seeing on ESPN.

That would be a short-term problem, and life would probably go on for the basketball program, but why take even a short-term hit if it isn't necessary?

The case for building a new home for the football team is more compelling, but only slightly. Unfortunately, the best argument for constructing a new dome or stadium also works against it. You can spend a boat-load of money to construct a new stadium, hoping that the shiny new building will attract fans and improve the dreadful attendance. That did work once, when the Carrier Dome was constructed. But that would be a tremendous gamble. Daryl Gross is a visionary athletic director but even he would have to pause to wonder if a new stadium would really be worth the expense when the city doesn't seem to care much about the football program.

Last year, when Doug Marrone's team trounced Louisville, the eventual Sugar Bowl champs, on their way to a Big East co-championship, they did it in front of a paltry 30,000 or so fans (the announced attendance was around 40,000 but anyone who went to the game would know that was a joke). When you can't even fill a medium-sized stadium for a game of that magnitude, what's the point in building a bigger one?

At the moment, SU seems to be more focused on more reasonable goals, like building the new football practice facility, which could break ground this fall. Building up the football program's infrastructure to get it up to par with the rest of the ACC should be priority number one, but the Carrier Dome is working just fine. Compared to other ACC stadiums, it may be middle-of-the-pack but it is certainly nowhere near the bottom of the barrel. The building has undergone a transformation in the last several years, with the upgraded turf, a slew of banners to brighten the place up, and the new scoreboards that debuted last season. One really has to wonder how many of the building's critics have actually attended a game there in recent years.

Will opposing fans still call the place a tomb? Probably, but who cares? That's what sports fans and the denizens off internet comment sections do.

Right now, the focus should be on getting the fans out to games. There's no sense in spending millions on a new stadium when people may not even show up to sit in it. I'm sure there would be a decent bump in attendance to begin with but the novelty won't last. Syracuse fans are among the most fair-weather out there and once people have experienced the new stadium, it will not be long until business as usual resumes.

If Syracuse athletics has a problem to fix, that would be it. The Dome is doing just fine.

 

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