The ongoing debate on whether to renovate Rupp Arena or build a new facility may have the UK fanbase and administration divided, but Rupp Arena is still special enough to make it onto one of the ESPN’s College Basketball Panel’s “Bucket List”:
Stephen Bardo: Rupp Arena tops my wish list. I was born in Kentucky and raised in nearby southern Illinois, so Wildcats basketball was by far the most popular college team of my childhood. Growing up watching the Jack “Goose” Givens era and now the way coach John Calipari has it rockin’ again, a visit to Rupp would bring it full circle for me. Hearing 24,000 fans live and die on every play would be special.
While Rupp may grace Bardo and Joe Lunardi’s (he put it at number two, behind Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse) bucket lists, it did not make any of the analysts’ list of favorite arenas, nor a coaches’ and players’ survey of toughest arenas to play in. To me, this underlines the case for a new facility: while Rupp may hold sentimental value in our hearts for the countless memories under its banners, it’s not enough to be one of the best in the country anymore.
All of the arenas mentioned on the panel’s lists–Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Gallagher-Iba Arena (Oklahoma State), Maples Pavilion (Stanford), Pauley Pavilion (UCLA), The Palestra (UPenn)–create memorable experiences for the viewer through atmosphere, something that, for a number of reasons (blue hairs in the lower arena, students only in one endzone, etc.), Rupp lacks from time to time. Phog Allen and Cameron Indoor Stadium achieve atmosphere by putting students right next to the court, ensuring a loud and intimidating environment from start to finish. Other arenas, like Madison Square Garden and Philadelphia’s Palestra, made the list because of a combination of their architecture and history. Yes, some, especially those on the task force, may argue that a renovation of Rupp Arena could achieve a sense of old tradition with modern amenities, but what exactly is so precious about Rupp the building to save? Why not start from scratch and create the arena we’ve always wanted?