When The Gonzaga Bulletin reported last week that residence halls would be closed for the biggest home game in Gonzaga men's basketball history versus University of North Carolina, it wasn’t surprising. It’s difficult to justify paying to keep dorms open for a full four days just for an athletic event, no matter the size. The closure formulates a lose-lose situation for underclassmen, they'll now have to either rough it or shell out big bucks just to watch the game.
Sure, upperclassmen and alumni are free to open their houses to students (and although well-intentioned, that seems unsafe) and students could split hotel rooms and Airbnbs if they feel so inclined (choose one: low price or comfort).
But they shouldn’t have to. Not because the school should be obligated to provide housing for them, but because this game shouldn’t have been scheduled for a slot this deep into winter break in the first place.
It's true. Last year’s game in Chapel Hill was technically played during UNC’s winter break on Dec. 15, but it was played on the first day after finals. Practically everyone was still on campus at that point and the Zags clearly felt the home-court advantage en route to a 13-point loss. GU most likely could’ve done something similar with its schedule this year had it not fumbled by scheduling an away game against Arizona on Dec. 14 that would create too quick of a turnaround.
I’m sure that Arizona wanted its home game on the 14th for the same reason that UNC wanted its on the 15th last year; the home-court advantage would be retained. Clearly, GU lost that negotiation and that advantage is still in question despite what looks to be a huge effort from The Kennel Club and the community at large.
Full disclosure — I do not work in athletics. I have not compiled a college basketball schedule. I’m sure it’s difficult and there may have been circumstances that prevented this game from being on any other day but Dec. 18, such as the lingering possibility that the Zags may face UNC earlier than expected in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving break.
But it’s hard to believe that there was no possible way to make the schedule work so that this wasn’t a problem. When UNC comes to McCarthey, maybe it’s necessary to pull a few more strings than usual. That game should be the No. 1 scheduling priority, especially since it’s been planned years in advance. That win could be a program-shifting moment and it's something that can't be taken lightly.
It's difficult to imagine that it wasn't possible to make this happen in some way. It could very well be the case, but it's difficult to imagine.
It's pretty obvious that a lack of a full student section is a major disadvantage to the home team. I’ve been to home games over winter break many times throughout my childhood and my time at GU — the energy in its Kennel is just not the same. It’s quiet, dead. It doesn’t feel like The Kennel, but instead just like any another gym. People cheer, but that’s a given at almost any game; Spokane residents are almost as crazy for Zags basketball as students are. But there’s not the manic cohesiveness that students specialize in. Momentum is harder to come by without the entire crowd dialed in and against a dynamic team like UNC, preserving that momentum is all the more crucial.
As dubious of a practice as I think it is to quantify the effects of fans on the game, Mark Few himself has said that he believes the student section is good for seven points they wouldn’t have on the road, solely because of morale.
Let’s keep those seven points this time, as I’m confident we will. But let’s try to avoid worrying about whether we’ll have them the next time a national power comes to The Kennel to play.