#SFatPauley: Morgan Center's Student Seating Plan - Does It Really Mirror Other Pac-12 Schools?

As we have covered extensively since last Thursday, UCLA has released a new student seating plan for the new Pauley Pavilion. Contrary to the seating plan in effect for the final few seasons at Pauley, and the seating plan that was put forward during the Campaign of Champion, this new plan, as described by the Daily Bruin, will eliminate the current student section located on the lower level of Pauley along one side of the court, and move it behind the west basket - behind the courtside donor seats located on that side. The upper student section located along the north (Sunset Blvd) side of Pauley will also be relocated to the west side, to be joined by two sections in the middle (currently sections 207-208) creating a new student section.

Both the Daily Bruin and the UCLA Athletics official release made several claims regarding the layout of the new student section and how it compares to other schools, in the Pac-10/12 as well as nationally. Given that Morgan Center has been less than honest and forthright in this matter - as detailed last Thursday by gbruin - it makes sense to take a closer look at the comparisons. Last week, Go Bruinz began by comparing the new plan with those affecting the 'top 5' student sections as rated by SI.com, finding the new plan to be inferior to those encompassing the 'best' student sections throughout the country. I will continue by looking at how this new student seating plan compares to other Pac-10 schools, as well as the two new member schools.

Thursday's Daily Bruin article discussing the changes included the following description of the new section:

The new student section will be situated behind the west basket – closest to the opposing team’s bench – and stretch to the top of the arena, mirroring other Pac-10 schools.

While Morgan Center's official release stated the following:

The Den will start immediately behind the West basket (the side located adjacent to the visiting team bench), span the entire width of the court and will stretch all the way to the top of the arena. This configuration is similar to arenas at many Pac-12 schools, including Arizona, Oregon and USC, as well as many around the nation.

I will begin by looking at the three schools identified by Morgan Center as having student seating configurations similar to that of the new plan for Pauley, before laying out the existing circumstances at other conference-member schools. Just from a simple look at the publically available student ticket and seating information, and the general seating charts for those three schools, the claim is very sketchy - ranging from a stretch in the case of Arizona, a 'What the hell are you doing making anything about our Basketball program like USC' for the comparison with Southern Cal, and a complete fabrication as applied to the University of Oregon.

It is accurate that the student section at Arizona does not occupy any seats along the sides of the court, on the floor or otherwise - one of three current conference schools that this is true of. According to the UA student ticket guide together with a Mckale Center seating chart (students in orange), we can see that UA students are given access to 4 full sections from the court to the roof, plus a 5th section on the floor and middle bowl levels in the corner between the basket and the opposing team's bench. As compared to the new Pauley plan, the seating at Mckale is closer to the court - while centering the court will bring it closer to the west side seats, without a radical transformation of the seating bowl, there will still be a considerable distance between the court and these student seats (with multiple rows of donor floor seats in front of them), particularly for those in the middle and upper seating bowls. Also, do not discount the further extent of the Arizona students, both in numbers (with 2290 seats, it is about 400 in number larger than the new Pauley section, 600 larger than the current Den) and in extent along the seating bowl - taking over much of one of the corners, allowing more of their students to sit close to the action.

The second comp for the new student section singled out in the press release is that of Southern Cal. Putting aside for a moment the complete absurdity of positively citing anything about the basketball program at Southern Cal to bolster a change in Westwood - particularly their student section (other than the UCLA game, do they even have any students show up to their games?) - the student seating at Galen Center has similarities to the Morgan plan and that at Arizona in that the students there have floor-level seating behind one of the baskets (there is no upper level in that area of Galen). Like Arizona, but unlike the new Morgan Center plan, USC students also receive lower and upper-level seating in part of the adjoining corners of the arena.

While this piece is two years old, it is one attempt by a west-coast focused site to look at the power and impact of the Pac-10 Basketball student sections. In that post, the student sections at Arizona and Southern Cal which the administration cited with approval ranked 9th and 8th respectively among the 10 schools of the conference.

The power of the Arizona fan base is still entrusted to the thousands of geriatrics that populate the McKale Center...

To their credit, the 'greyhair' alums that hold much of Arizona's prime seating are willing and able to make their presence known during games, If only ours were so inclined...

Earlier, I wrote that Arizona was one of three schools in the current Pac-10 that do not provide floor seats on a portion of the baseline. Given the quote from the UCLA press release, it would seem to follow that Oregon is another of those three. You would be mistaken. While the Ducks have placed part of their student section in the stands from court to ceiling behind one basket at the new Matthew Knight Arena (aka "The Matt", and as was the case at the old MacArthur Court), much of the student seating has been located on the floor, alongside the court, directly across from the benches. According to the Oregon athletics student ticketing website, all dedicated student seating is located on the floor and lower bowl - which under a design that incorporated the input of the athletic department, donors AND students, starts just beyond photographer's row behind the basket, and flows into the upper level thanks to the steepest seating pitch allowed under state fire code, as can be seen in the photo accompanying this article (students wearing bright yellow). The student seating begins alongside the court, wrapping around one corner of the arena and continuing along behind the basket until hitting the opposite corner. There are additional rows further up in the corners and behind the basket at the Matt, the details of which brings up another interesting point.

As alluded to in the last paragraph, the University of Oregon's administration kept the interests of normal students wishing to cheer on their classmates and teams in mind when designing The Matt. Part of this involved designing and outfitting the arena so that students would be as close to the action as possible, and part was simply making the students feel that they were appreciated, and considered an integral part of the experience, even down to making the student section with the traditional bench seats - embossed with the student's "Pit Crew" slogan, even the non-retractable sections in this multi-purpose arena - visible in this photo tour retained in the design to allow the maximum number of students to fit inside - and tacitly encourage them to remain standing during the game. While a touch off topic, Michigan State's approach to their students also fits this model of respect by the athletic administration. As they showed, it does not take construction of a new arena, or even the refreshing of an existing one to make changes that allow the students to feel like they are a respected and valued part of their university. Sure wish that Morgan Center felt the same way about our students.

You would think that whoever was tasked with fact checking that press release might have actually have taken 2 minutes to check that against the clearly posted student seating guidelines at the Oregon athletics website, or have actually seen a UCLA @ Oregon game on TV and seen their student section taunting from across the bench. The intern with that job must have skipped out of work early for pint night, one hopes for the sake of Morgan Center's credibility and level of intelligence. At least Kevin Love can feel better now knowing that the crass, homophobic insults that we thought were directed at him and his family from students in that particular area never really happened.

Continuing along our tour of the Pac-12 student sections, there are several varieties of student seating plans in effect - most popular being a hybrid of floor seats either behind or across from the team benches with additional seats located in the corners and/or behind a basket, but the Morgan Center-preferred solution of no students taking up high-revenue seats does exist in the conference - mainly among the new members that are joining the conference this fall. One school has even established its student section exclusively on the floor across from the benches.

Starting with the new kids on the block, both Colorado and Utah have established their basketball student sections behind the basket on one side of their respective arenas. As is the case with Arizona and USC, Colorado's student section extends beyond the width of the court (student section in blue) at the Coors Event Center, spreading into the adjoining corners of the seating bowl. Utah's students get a 4-section wide swatch of the Huntsman Center, from court to roof that stretches from the start of the baseline across from the benches, around to the corner hitting the back of the visiting team's bench. A unique feature of this arena in terms of the Pac-12 (but not nationally) is that the floor level is perfectly circular. As I experienced while attending law school at a university that had a so designed basketball arena, the seats behind the baskets actually are much closer to the court than are the seats on the sides of the court; in this type of arena arrangement, a student section exclusively behind a basket does make some sense. Utah gives its students a further advantage by extending their part of the arena further into the corner of the court, allowing more students to sit close to the court, and nearby the opposing team.

One member of the currently-assembled Pac-10 does have a student section arrangement just like that planned by Morgan Center - Arizona State. The student section at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe has been assigned a wedge of seats from court to the roof - 4 sections + a 5th for the band in the lower bowl, and 3 sections in the upper level. Not often thought of as a particularly imposing student group - at least for basketball - the student section ranking linked above rated the ASU basketball student section 7th among the Pac-10 schools.

In stark contrast to ASU's practice of wedging their students behind one basket, Washington State provides the gold standard in terms of ultimate student access to games, and the location provided. The student section at the Beasley Coliseum encompasses nearly 4,000 seats, spanning the entire length of the court from floor to roof, as well as the adjoining corners of the upper level. Considering that Pullman likely does not have a large alumni or corporate market nearby willing to buy up a large number of courtside seats, it is easier for their athletic department to let the students use many of the best seats in the house, unconcerned with the money that could be gained by booting them out. Just like the old days at Pauley, it would seem.

Stanford University, as the smallest-enrollment member of the Pac-1x, has the smallest basketball student section in the conference at 800 seats. I use the word 'seats' really to describe the number of student admissions allowed, as there are no seats in the Sixth Man's portion of Maples Pavilion; this student section is a standing-room only affair located exclusively on a stepped platform on the floor level directly opposite the team benches and scorers table. Now with free admission to boot. Despite their low numbers, anyone who took in a Stanford/UCLA game in person or on TV during their team's heyday under Mike Montgomery can testify that those few hundred students standing across from the benches can make a huge impact on the atmosphere and on the game itself.

Three other Pac-10 Schools employ what I will call a "Hybrid" student plan - part of their respective student sections hold seats on the floor alongside the court, either across from or behind the team benches and scoring table, with additional student seating in other positions in the arenas.

Oregon State has provided its students with an expansive seating area at Gill Coliseum, with floor level seats alongside the court, as well as court to roof seats behind one basket and corner of the arena, as well as an additional upper level section alongside the court, behind the floor student section. As advantageous as their seating is, they do show that even good seats can't outweigh mediocre basketball in ginning up excitement. Much of Washington's 'Dawg Pack' student section is located on the floor level in seating directly behind the benches and scoring table, with the remainder of the students without season passes given reserved seats in the upper level behind one of the baskets. While they may not be the most classy group of kids in college basketball, they have gained a reputation as one of the best student sections in all of the NCAA - due in great part to the seating location of their core.

The basketball student section at Berkeley - like the proposed plan for Pauley - has a court-to-ceiling student section behind one of the baskets - plus part of another section reserved for student non-season ticket holders. Unlike the Morgan Center plan, Cal also includes in their student section a full-court length section on the floor, directly across from the benches and scoring table (in linked seating chart: dark grey = student seating). Like Oregon's new arena, the seating bowl at Haas Pavilion is set close to the court, and as steeply as realistically possible, allowing even those in more distant rows to feel close to the court and make their presence felt.

The truth is that there are a wide variety of ways that schools in the Pac-10/12 have decided to treat their students as far as allowing them access to their school's basketball games. To say at all that one school's plan generally mirrors that of others is not an accurate statement given this variety. The direct comparisons that Morgan Center attempted to make in presenting its new plan do not hold up to scrutiny, but even if they had, the fact remains that the plan that has been proposed does not put the students first, not even in the modern university context where revenue must be maximized. Several other universities in the conference have implemented seating arrangements that respects the students, and keeping in mind the fact that the students hold central role in the life of the campus. Our hope is that in this instance, our university can take a lesson from their peers.

What the conduct of the athletic department in this matter - over the past few days as well as in the months leading up to this announcement - says more than mere words could convey about the lack of respect for the student body. The fact that they could not have an free and fair dialogue with students about possible changes to the seating plan at the new arena, and announced the changes by an email and press release that contains a number of stretches, distortions and falsehoods that they either did not even see fit to fact check, or trusted that media sources would not check for themselves, is a black mark for them, and sadly by its association, our university.

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