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If Notre Dame Cares About Men’s Basketball, Purcell Pavilion NEEDS to Change

As things stand, the phrase “Pur-sellout” is just going to waste

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If apathy is a tragedy, and comedy equals tragedy plus time, then Notre Dame men’s basketball is officially a joke. While there isn’t a foolproof remedy for this affliction, there’s a change that could do the trick in resurrecting the program (by way of resurrecting fan excitement):

Overhaul Purcell Pavilion.

The Mike Brey era at Notre Dame is officially — and, let’s be honest, mercifully — over. Now is the time to reevaluate how a once-if-only-briefly-proud program has fallen so far so fast (see: three losing seasons in the last five years). And the first thing that should be revealed by the post-Brey-era autopsy is the need to do one thing:

Overhaul Purcell Pavilion.

It may not be an immediate fix, but what it does is help lay the groundwork for things to get back on track — and possibly even soar to greater heights. And no, I don’t mean overhaul from an infrastructure standpoint.

What I’m suggesting, quite simply, is that Notre Dame basketball needs to rip off Duke basketball. For those unaware, 1,200 lower-arena seats of Duke’s home venue, Cameron Indoor Stadium — capacity 9,314 — are reserved for undergraduate students.

At every. Single. Game.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Duke
Duke’s student section, dubbed the “Cameron Crazies,” pesters former Notre Dame guard Dane Goodwin on an in-bounds pass.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

I have but a simple request of Fr. Jenkins, Jack Swarbrick, and miscellaneous other Irish decisionmakers: do the same thing at Purcell Pavilion.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as they say. And Notre Dame athletics is no stranger to such flattery, considering the way they blatantly ripped off Georgia football’s tradition of shining their cellphone flashlights between the third and fourth quarters of games. (And waving the lights while “1812 Overture” plays doesn’t make it any easier to stomach).

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Georgia vs Alabama
If it’s news to you to that Notre Dame ripped off Georgia’s fourth-quarter lights tradition, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you.
Joshua Bickel-USA TODAY Sports

I won’t go so far as to say that the entire lower arena of Purcell should be reserved for students, but how about half of it? A third? Anything has got to be better than a single section behind one of the baskets. That section is rarely full by itself, but what’s the risk in simply trying to increase student turnout by making games into an event? With how little use the building currently gets during men’s basketball games, I can’t imagine that Notre Dame is turning a profit on the program anyhow.

Not doing this is also a wasted opportunity. Purcell holds 9,149 patrons. Having sat in the very last row of the upper arena, I can personally attest that there isn’t a single bad seat in the house. It’s ripe for creating a compact home venue where the opposing players feel fans bearing down on them.

But this isn’t just about giving Notre Dame a better home-court advantage by replacing the (no offense) low-energy South Bend crowd with young, able-bodied college students. It’s about building fan excitement anew by starting a new tradition.

Forget the chicken-or-the-egg debate about what comes first: a quality basketball product or fan support. The former inevitably comes and goes; the latter should never disappear at a program that is top-10 in all-time wins in NCAA history.

The blame for the state of ever-looming apathy falls on the administration more so than students. Notre Dame has the responsibility of advocating for its own programs, not just nationally but to its own fanbase.

I’m not saying the university needs to come up with some catchy nickname for the expanded student section like the “Cameron Crazies.” (“Purcell Patriots”? Stupid, I know, but better than “Legion 6”). But we should never reach the point where the Irish finish the regular season tied for the second-best record in the ACC, and throughout the season the head coach must nevertheless make frequent trips to stand on dining hall tables and convince students to come to games. That’s pathetic.

To be clear, I’m not saying the student body isn’t to blame for some of this. Fans have to meet programs somewhere, even if not halfway. But I’m also not saying I fully support South Bend Tribune reporter Tom Noie in his crusade against the student section.

To be sure, the Notre Dame workload can be hell on students’ free time. (I’m speaking from personal experience on that one). But Duke is also a top-20 institution and their students still manage to come out in droves. That’s not just because the Blue Devils program is consistently good; it’s because the university has invested and cultivated fan interest.

Yes, Mike Krzyzewski’s 42-year tenure at Duke, during which he won multiple championships, created an identity at Duke that was easy to latch onto. But identities don’t need to be predicated on a coach. In fact, they really shouldn’t be (e.g., Bobby Knight, Jim Boeheim, etc.). Again, quality basketball, and the coaches who teach it, come and go; fan support should be evergreen.

Maybe when the Notre Dame administration demonstrates that it actually cares about men’s basketball, the fans will decide that they should as well. And maybe then some better head coaching candidates will express interest in a job that should carry a lot more prestige than it actually does.

For a program starting from scratch, walking comes before running. Overhauling Purcell is the first step.