Dick Harmon: Upgrades to Marriott Center may impact students the most

Published: Friday, April 13 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

BYU fans cheer in the first half of play as BYU and Baylor play Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011 in the Marriott Center in Provo.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

PROVO — It was talk of a building.

It was not conference expansion rumors, the BCS, BYU's status as an independent, the first year in the West Coast Conference or future football schedules that took center stage in Friday's casual press meeting with BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe.

The Marriott Center is undergoing plastic surgery — that was the big news.

BYU has decided now is the time to take the 40-year-old Marriott Center and give it a long overdue face-lift.

Holmoe told reporters Friday that the school will massage political, financial and physical barriers and begin making changes to the 22,700-seat facility on May 1.

There might be some ruffled feathers among some students and some longtime donors, who might be moved to another seating area, but these changes are needed for myriad reasons, primarily comfort and safety.

There's a longtime joke in Provo that when the Marriott Center was planned back in the late 1960s and constructed in the early 1970s, the seats were designed according to a certain model by then-Y. President Ernest L. Wilkinson, a diminutive man who stood about 5-foot-6.

The Marriott Center and the University of Kentucky's Rupp Arena were the standard for many years for "big" college basketball arenas. But the BYU facility has been cramped, uncomfortable, and some of the bench seats on the north side have actually been dangerous when students have stood and jumped on them during contests.

"As students, we've been spoiled to have access to some of the best seats in the Marriott Center," said law student Heath Waddingham, who has been a student at BYU since 2003. "I had tickets on about the 10th row for Jimmer vs. SDSU, and having full vision of the entire court that made it one of my favorite BYU athletics experiences of all time.

"I understand how the school's obligations to legacies and the opportunity to sell those seats makes moving the student section desirable or necessary. I even understand how it may be beneficial to the team to put students right next to the opposing bench to yell mildly rude comments (let's face it, a lot of what BYU students say at games is tame) at the enemy, or to put them behind the opposing team's basket to mess with opposing shooters at the end of a game. But from my point of view, I'm going to miss having the great seats."

Holmoe said the lower bowl bench seats in sections 21 through 27 will become premium padded chair seats. The player bench and press tables will be located below these new premium seats and the Courtside Cougar section on the north floor area will go to the opposite sideline.

The student section will be moved to the west portion of the arena, where the visiting team's basket is located during the second half.

This move will open up more premium seating and the plan is to make the bowl area more consistently filled. Existing ticket holders will be given options to purchase seats that are considered more valuable and comfortable.

Seating for the Marriott Center will go from just under 23,000 to 20,900, according to Holmoe.

In addition, a new sound system will be installed, and both the men's and women's locker room facilities will be renovated.

In the short run, this change in the seating will impact students the most. To give up a sideline seat for a baseline seat is a significant change. BYU officials are selling this move as an advantage for the Cougars to have student voices and noise under the opponent's basket at the end of the game.

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