Take a look at some of the consistent winning programs in college hoops and you’ll notice a few things in place beyond merely the coaching staff and players on the floor. Some of these qualities include:
Passionate fan bases.
A decided home court advantage.
That last one in particular, home court advantage, is one of the few off court aspects that can have a tangible impact on the outcome of a game. I don’t need to explain to you all of the different ways a hostile environment makes winning easier for the home team because you’ve seen it before. Even programs with consistently lesser levels of talent have proven for years that they, in tandem with an intimidating home arena, can achieve success in the win/loss column beyond what would otherwise be possible.
But beyond merely the rabid fans that inhabit the arena on game day is another factor that can kick up a raucous environment to another level.
Two words: Student seating.
Now this is not to disparage the vocal contributions of the general admission members of a crowd, but rather to accentuate the point that the enthusiasm of the student body at these games is second to none when it comes to creating an elite home atmosphere.
To be frank, in terms of student seating the Iowa basketball program is lagging behind those other consistently relevant programs whose successes it is trying to emulate.
When you look at some of the most difficult venues to win at across the Big Ten, there is a correlation between the location of student seating and overall crowd hostility. Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State are examples of perennial conference powers whose student sections are located in large part along the lower sideline levels of seating as well as behind the respective baskets.
These three conference foes have all established themselves as consistent contenders, in large part due to their stellar home court advantages and subsequent records. Over the past five seasons they have combined for a sterling 231-34 mark on their respective home floors, including 34 wins in 58 contests against ranked opponents. Of course all of these programs have had plenty of talent, but don’t think for a second that the boost provided by their home crowds didn’t help them achieve victory on at least a few occasions.
Iowa has a fairly impressive track record at home itself, going 45-12 over the last three seasons since coach Fran McCaffery turned the program around. Unfortunately, only four of those wins came over ranked foes, including just one in the past two years.
Opponents are no longer taking the Hawkeyes lightly when they visit Iowa City. Ranked squads in particular know they need to bring their ‘A’ games if they want to get a win.
So what does this mean for Iowa?
In addition to the influx of talent brought in by McCaffery and his staff through recruiting, Iowa’s home crowds need to step it up another level in order to help the Hawkeyes achieve the utmost success.
Both general and student attendance were both at their highest levels in years this past season inside Carver Hawkeye Arena, but the renewed enthusiasm still left a sense of “what if” in terms of just how great of an advantage Iowa’s home arena could still yet become.
As opposed to their aforementioned Big Ten brethren, Iowa students are essentially relegated to a section behind one of the baselines from row one up to row 42. While there is a fairly large total amount of seats provided in this area, the deep pit-like structure of the arena makes it difficult for students in the upper seating levels to have a great vocal effect on the game.
Not only that, but aside from some of the biggest games this season only two-thirds to three-fourths of the student section would be filled up on a given night.
I’m not saying that the seats themselves are in poor position for watching a basketball game. However, for 18-22 year-olds the games are often just as much about the experience of the environment itself as they are about taking in some hoops. If moved in closer proximity with the court, I can almost assure you that the levels of student attendance and engagement would only further increase.
Of course the current arrangement is largely set up to provide the regular fans with the greatest number of prime seats possible. I won’t tell the university how it should generate money for its athletic programs, but I will say that it could help the basketball team get a few more wins by placing students in an area where they can make a greater impact.
No one is suggesting a Michigan State-esque overhaul that effectively gives students their choice of the best seats in the house around the court. With that being said, it wouldn’t kill the university to shift a portion of the upper student section to something along the lines of an open box 0r ‘C’ shape bordering one baseline and the two sidelines up to half-court.
Whether or not anything changes regarding student seating at Carver Hawkeye Arena is out of my control. I will say though, that this reemerging program and its players deserve a student body that at least has the opportunity to make its voice heard to the greatest impact possible each time the Hawkeyes take the floor.