The new Sanford Stadium project looks great but what about Stegeman Coliseum

Jan 25, 2017; Athens, GA, USA; A general view of Stegeman Coliseum prior to the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 2017; Athens, GA, USA; A general view of Stegeman Coliseum prior to the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports /

Georgia football is getting a major upgrade for Sanford Stadium, but no such upgrade is one the horizon for Georgia basketball.

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Aesthetically, Stegeman Coliseum is one of the best arena’s in the SEC. It has a unique look outside and on the inside it appears to be larger than the 10,523 capacity suggests.

But on game day, Georgia basketball has one of the more underwhelming arena’s in the conference. And it’s easy to blame fans for that. After all in the 2015-16 season, Georgia averaged only a little over 7,500 fans which is less than three-quarters of maximum capacity.

However, Greg McGarity admitted last year that the fan experience for Georgia basketball games is lacking in many areas. McGarity mentioned a want for a mid-court overhanging scoreboard that would replace the existing one. Lighting and audio were also mentioned, but nothing structurally.

As McGarity said “Structurally what can we do to make it better? Because the building functions really, really well when it’s full. It has a dynamic presence.”

There’s just one problem with that; barely anyone agrees with him. ESPN ranked Stegeman Coliseum as the 13th toughest place to play in the SEC in August. The Great American Sports Network had the Coliseum in last place among the 14 SEC arenas.

The SEC Network had a video interviewing numerous SEC players and coaches about the most unique, intimidating, and energetic places to play in the SEC. Stegeman Coliseum was never mentioned.

Will lighting, audio and a new scoreboard help? In some ways yes, but it won’t get the job done. Too often the arena just lacks energy. Stegeman was almost dead silent for most of Georgia’s loss to Alabama last month. And a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t even that loud for Florida.

Those were big, winnable games against SEC teams, one of whom is supposedly our biggest conference rival. And again, it’s easy to criticize fans for not showing up or not cheering loud enough. But is Stegeman Coliseum even an arena fans want to show up to? Is it an arena that makes fans want to get loud?

Those aren’t issues that can be overcome with some better speakers and a new scoreboard. Structural upgrades will be needed to achieve the experience that Georgia basketball wants.

Speaking of Florida though, at face value, their O’Connell Center isn’t too different from Stegeman Coliseum. The capacity is 10,151 as of 2016, only around 400 seats less than Stegeman. It too has a unique design on the outside and looks great on the inside.

But other than the success of the basketball teams that call the arena’s home, what else separates the two? Florida being a national championship winning program can’t be the only reason. Unless we’re assuming that Georgia fans don’t care as much about their Bulldogs on the hardwood as the Florida fans do. But we know better than that.

A side-by-side look at Stegeman Coliseum and the O’Connell Center shows what’s wrong with the home of Georgia basketball. The O’Connell Center is steeper. That means that row five in the O’Connell Center is closer to the court than the fifth row at Stegeman Coliseum.

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That also means that the top row in the Coliseum is away from the court whereas the top row of the O’Connell Center is right over the court. You do not need to be an expert to know that the steeper the arena, the louder it gets.

That’s why at just over 10,000 seats, Florida was ranked second on the list ESPN published back in August, and why players and coaches mentioned the O’Connell Center in the video interview on the SEC network. The Great American Sports Network also ranked the O’Connell Center seventh in the SEC.

Fan experience and crowd noise for Florida isn’t superior to Georgia basketball because of their center court scoreboard, or their audio and lighting. It’s superior because it’s built to hold and maximize crowd noise. It’s why Century Link is built the way it is, and numerous other arena’s and stadiums are built with that same philosophy.

Stegeman Coliseum isn’t built that way. You can’t blame the architects that designed it. People didn’t think about making an arena that will be loud. They just wanted to give Georgia basketball fans a great place to watch a basketball game.

But in these days, crazy fan bases aim to be as loud as possible and announcers bring attention to that noise. ESPN and other stations also do what they can to convey how loud arenas and stadiums are.

Fans know that they can affect what happens on the court. Players positively feed off of the energy of their crowd and get rattled when they’re in a hostile environment.

Because of this, Stegeman Coliseum has run its course. Or at least the interior has. If Greg McGarity really wants to improve the fan experience inside the Coliseum, he’ll need more than a scoreboard and some speakers.