Hertzel’s Thoughts: A Proposal For Naming The WVU Coliseum
MORGANTOWN — If you will pardon me for this summer intrusion, I wish to get your attention for a moment.
On Thursday morning, West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons announced a five-year, $100-million project to improve athletic facilities at the school, some of which have been sorely needed for some time, some of which are simply a cherry atop an ice cream sundae that already has been smothered in hot fudge and piled high with whipped cream.
Near the end of the press conference, though, Lyons was asked an intriguing question that has been discussed over and over in bars, on talk shows and surely in the money meetings that go on behind the locked doors at the Coliseum.
The question was whether the athletic department planned to sell the naming rights to the Coliseum, cashing in on one of the most valuable assets the school has.
To the surprise of no one, Lyons admitted that this is a very real “possibility in the future” as a mean of creating “a revenue stream” for the athletic department.
It is difficult to find fault with such thinking in an era when donors have become far more important than recruits, for the building boom that the university’s athletic department has undergone over the last decade and that continues to snowball demands donation money for facility that attract recruits.
In this day and age things have turned backwards. In the past, your winning percentage in college athletics seemed to dictate the flow of donations.
Today it’s the flow of donations that dictates your winning percentage, or so the thinking goes.
But back to selling naming rights to the Coliseum, which is a valuable item.
The trend has been to name the stadium after someone whose financial contributions to the university and/or city have made so much possible, and no one can really argue that such philanthropy deserves such a reward.
They followed suit in Morgantown, of course, when they honored Milan Puskar by changing the name of Mountaineer Field to Milan Puskar Stadium, keeping the Mountaineer connection by offering up the suggestion that it really is Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Throughout the Big 12 there has been much along this line, the likes of the oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens having his name attached to the Oklahoma State Stadium, the newspaper publisher and generous donor Amon G. Carter having his name on the the TCU Stadium and businessman Drayton McLane having the new Baylor Stadium named in his honor.
There is really no objection to WVU finding such a person to honor by naming the Coliseum in such a way, but let us hope it would not be some corporate connection, either corporate giant such as the Oscar Meyer Coliseum or even some local business such as Mario’s Beer and Basketball Palace.
Those who have done it the right way are such schools as Texas, which honors Darrell K. Royal, their Hall of Fame football coach, by putting his name on their stadium or Kansas State, which actually has named its stadium after the still active coach Bill Snyder, who took college football’s worst program and turned it into a top contender and did it the right way.
Now, no, anyone who knows me knows I am not pushing for the Coliseum to be called the Gale Catlett Coliseum and, while it would be fun to see Bob Huggins’ name attached to it, that really isn’t the way to go either.
The truth is, there is only one person’s whose name should go on the Coliseum, and as he has recently just celebrated his 80th birthday we would dare suggest that steps be taken immediately to go out and approach the school’s top donors with the idea of contributing to renaming the building which houses much of the athletic department as is home to WVU basketball as … the Jerry West WVU Coliseum
Jerry West may be the NBA logo but he symbolizes everything the state of West Virginia stands for.
Just as the Coliseum is as Lyons called it “the most iconic building in West Virginia, maybe second to the Capitol … maybe even first,” so West is the most iconic native of the state.
“There’s nothing like this building when you come up over the hill on I-79 and see it lit up at night,” said Lyons.
And, in truth, the building probably is there as much as a tribute to the basketball foundation West started as to any other reason.
Jerry West started with nothing but desire and in a state that lived off its coal mining. It was fitting that he had tunnel vision as he dug his way out of Chelyan and put not only West Virginia basketball but the state on the world map.
West transcended basketball, winning a Gold Medal in 1960 with maybe the greatest Olympic team ever, led the Mountaineers to their only NCAA Final game, fought an uphill battle throughout his career before becoming an NBA champion in 1972.
But as great as he was in basketball, he was as good as an NBA executive, again as intense as ever and settling for nothing but success, West became legendary after his playing career ended and then widened his influence by simply being a wonderful person.
There are hundreds of reasons to name the WVU Coliseum after West and certainly thousands of donors who would involve themselves in financing such a move.
And among the reasons to put West’s name on the Coliseum is that it would be an economical move, for they already have the statue honoring him out front.