When city voters approved a bond measure to help fund Nebraska's new 16,000-seat arena on Tuesday, athletic director Tom Osborne said the facility removes any remaining excuses for the school's struggling men's basketball program.
"There's no reason why Nebraska shouldn't be very competitive in both men's and women's basketball down the road," Osborne said. "It doesn't happen overnight, but we do think we'll gain considerable momentum."
Osborne is not alone in the belief that sparkling new facilities will translate into improved recruiting, but it's certainly debatable whether history actually supports that claim or not. A look at some of the schools that have opened new arenas in the past decade shows that some of their basketball programs have climbed up the food chain and others are not measurably better than they were before.
A USC program that occasionally made the tournament but rarely did much damage remains at that level four years after ditching the dingy, rat-infested Los Angeles Sports Arena for the sparkling new on-campus Galen Center.
Central Florida finished 22-9 the year before its new arena opened in 2007, but the Knights haven't eclipsed the 17-win plateau in the three seasons since.
In the Big 12 alone, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State have each opened new arenas or heavily renovated existing ones since Nebraska's last NCAA tournament appearance in 1998. The Tigers and Cowboys have remained ahead of Nebraska in the hoops pecking order since then and the Aggies have surpassed the Huskers, though again it's certainly possible that had more to do with the coaches they've hired than the facilities they built.
The bottom line for Nebraska is that the new arena can only help but it shouldn't be viewed as a cure-all. The school is not located in a region known as a hoops hotbed nor does it have a long tradition of basketball success, two factors that will not change even once the arena opens in three years.
Today's elite recruit is looking for a program where they feel comfortable with their coaches and teammates, they can get to the NBA and they can compete for a national championship.
Maybe the new arena helps Nebraska keep some local or regional talent, but Osborne's no excuses mantra may ring hollow in a few years.
- Tom Osborne