Gampel or XL? It’s a debate that has continued for decades on end, but hasn’t come even close to being solved. Exactly a month ago, I wrote a column discussing how UConn men’s basketball was doing things wrong with their distribution of games between their on-campus arena, Gampel Pavilion, and the XL Center in downtown Hartford. Gampel Pavilion holds just 10,167 people, while the XL Center holds 16,294. The benefit of Gampel is that it gives easier game access to students on campus. The benefit of XL is that it gives greater access to the rest of the state.
The article argued that because college basketball should be for the students, weekday games should be played at Gampel, so that they wouldn’t have to sacrifice class to watch the games in downtown Hartford. I’m slightly pivoting from that initial idea, but I think I’ve created a formula that makes sense from an atmospheric perspective, with the goal of filling the stands as much as possible. I want to make sure this doesn’t get taken the wrong way. I’m not taking the finances or the impending lease expiration of XL into consideration. Mike Anthony already did a nice job of this last week. I’m simply creating a solution that would make the best crowd experience possible. With that, let’s get into the principles of it.
FULL XL>FULL GAMPEL
The first assumption that we’re going to make is that for all intents and purposes, a sold-out XL Center is better than a sold-out Gampel Pavilion. Last Tuesday against Villanova, UConn nearly filled up XL (15.5K/16.2K) and it was electric. The crowd was wild and one could argue that they willed UConn to victory, as the Huskies came back from down four, without the ball, with 36 seconds left in the contest. The point is that if a game has the potential to sell 15,000+ tickets, then it makes more sense to put it at the XL Center because otherwise you’re losing out on 5,000 extra fans who may want to go to the game.
The imaginary line that I’m going to draw will be at 12,000. If a game is going to sell more than 12,000 tickets, then it is more logical to put it in Hartford. If not, then it makes more sense to give the students greater access to the game. It’s also important to keep in mind that if a game is not a sellout at Gampel, then it is unlikely that it would be in Hartford, since Gampel is so much easier to sell out with around 6,000 less seats to fill.
WINTER BREAK GAMES IN HARTFORD
This should be the easiest one to agree on. During the month-long period between roughly December 15th and January 15th, games should be played in Hartford to give the state greater access to the game. With little to no students on campus, there is no reason to prioritize them. Putting these games at Gampel during winter break makes the commute more inconvenient for the state without getting the benefit of a better student turnout.
A great example of a game in Storrs over winter break not working was January 12th against St. John’s, a fellow charter Big East member. Even though St. John’s isn’t what it once was, the rivalry should have made it a big game. Instead they put it in Gampel with very few students on campus and only got just over 6,600 people to show up for the overtime victory. Therefore, putting it in Hartford would have been the right move.
RIVALS GO TO XL REGARDLESS
No matter what is happening in the college basketball landscape, a game against Villanova will always come close to selling out. Although they came a year late in 1980, to fans, the Wildcats are as good as charter members from an excitement standpoint. They proved this last week, when on a random Tuesday night in February, the XL Center was full against the Wildcats because they’re Villanova and they’re ranked. If the game was at Gampel, there would have been a far greater number of people who wanted tickets than the number of tickets available. Because Villanova was a big time game that sold 5,000 more tickets than would be possible at Gampel, XL was the right move.
A clear second rival would be Providence, who the Huskies played in Hartford on December 17th on the weekend in between classes and winter break, when the Friars were unranked. They had a nearly identical turnout for that game as with the Villanova one, simply because of the rivalry. The argument could be made to add Seton Hall to that list (which I could go either way with), a team that sold-out Gampel on a Wednesday night two weeks ago. A tertiary, second-tier rival like Seton Hall might be good to keep at Gampel though, since it’s always nice to give the students a close, important game right in their backyard.
KENPOM AND METRICS AS A TOOL
Moving past the rivals, who you could pen in as marquee XL games, you could also use a metric like KenPom to make decisions on where to place games. KenPom is a predictive rating system that ranks teams based on offensive and defensive efficiency in the preseason and then daily once the season starts. Aside from a few blips, it is typically able to predict which teams are going to be better and worse before any games start.
If the goal is to have an even split of eight games at Gampel and eight at XL, then the formula would look like this: Two home games should be played against Villanova and Providence always at XL no matter what, with around three more games played at XL over winter break. The top non-conference buy game (as determined by preseason KenPom) should be played at XL to help the players get more used to the arena in a low pressure environment. There is no need to play any other buy games at XL because they don’t perform well in Hartford (average attendance of 9.1K/16.2K). The top two non-rival weekend conference games (according to preseason KenPom) will be played in Hartford – UConn doesn’t decide when their conference games will be played, so it is important to make sure that these games are over the weekend because it will be easier for students to access. Every other game should be played at Gampel.
This formula creates roughly an eight-eight split and also hits on all of the needs. The games that will sell out at the XL Center will be played there along with the winter break games. By putting the top two weekend conference games in XL, you bring students to Hartford without having to worry about classes. And by putting everything else at Gampel, you’re giving them an opportunity to attend most of the weekday games (barring a maximum of two that Villanova and Providence would present) without having to travel to Hartford. It seems like the perfect solution for everyone, so let’s see it happen.