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Basketball venues must be chosen carefully

With financing for the renovation of the Sun Dome approved by the Board of Trustees on Wednesday, it’s official that the men and women’s basketball teams must relocate from their cavernous, mostly empty home for a season.

Students won’t like the idea of a season-long relocation, but they should remember that it will ultimately be for the teams’ benefit in areas such as recruiting. The interim venue, however, should be thoroughly discussed.

The men’s team averaged 4,230 fans per game, only a small portion of the Sun Dome’s 10,411-seat capacity, while the women’s team averaged 1,089 fans, according to 2010-11 season statistics.

The St. Pete Times Forum is the USF Athletics Department’s first choice to become the temporary home for both teams, according to assistant director of athletics for communications Jeremy Sharpe. The Forum hosted USF basketball a few times in the past, including a men’s game against Syracuse last season. The attendance for that game was 10,051, more than double the figure of those who go to the Sun Dome.

Part of the reason for that spike was the special occasion of playing in the modern, downtown arena, but a larger reason was the orange army of fans that came specifically to see Syracuse. Both ends of the lower bowl were dominated by Orange fans, who were also sprinkled in smaller numbers among the USF fans on the sidelines. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim estimated after that game that “six, seven or 8,000 people” in the crowd were Syracuse fans.

The excitement of playing in the St. Pete Times Forum may soon wear off, and the distance from campus could mean even fewer students in attendance.

Should the Bulls play a full season in the Forum, attendance would likely be lower than last season’s attendance in the Sun Dome. If a crowd of only 4,230 people looks bad in the Sun Dome, it looks worse in an even larger arena.

While the main building is unavailable, the women’s team should consider playing in the Sun Dome Corral, an annex in which the volleyball team plays its games. According to the Tampa Bay Sports Authority, the Corral’s capacity is 725. Instead of playing in front of quiet, barely noticeable crowds in a large arena, the women’s team could easily sell out the Corral and create a loud, intimate environment.

Another bonus of playing in the Corral is that it would be rent-free.

While the teams’ forced removal from their usual home for a season is inconvenient, it’s beneficial in the long run for both programs. With the expensive new Pam & Les Muma Center set to debut later this summer, it’s only appropriate that the Sun Dome matches the practice facility’s quality as soon as possible.