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OSU would have been better off with the old Gallagher-Iba Arena

by Berry Tramel Published: January 24, 2013

Gallagher-Iba Arena's latest incarnation majestically opened 12 years ago. A glorious monument to ingenious architecture and basketball fever.

The raised roof more than doubled the capacity, from 6,381 to 13,611, while losing little if any of the atmosphere that made the Stillwater coliseum the state's best sporting venue.

But now glittering Gallagher is more curse than blessing. More albatross than shining symbol of OSU basketball.

The Cowboys these days fill only half of Gallagher-Iba, and the energy and aura of OSU basketball games is but a ghost from the Eddie Sutton salad days.

Truth is, OSU would have been better off if it never had expanded Gallagher-Iba.

Financially. Competitively. Mentally.

Put contemporary OSU basketball in the previous Gallagher configuration, and the Cowboys still would have one of the nation's best homecourt advantages, Travis Ford or any other coach wouldn't have the burden of trying to fill seats, and recruits still visit a crazy arena, and OSU wouldn't have long-term debt on a building that no longer is the bellcow for the athletic budget.

“You can't turn back the clock,” said OSU athletic director Mike Holder, who was the golf coach when Gallagher was expanded.

But Holder admits an expansion to something smaller than 13,611 would have been more prudent: “I think that was a little ambitious perhaps.”

When the expansion project was hatched, money was a constant OSU concern. Boone Pickens had not surfaced as a benefactor for the ages. Football, playing in dilapidated Lewis Field, was not a strong draw.

Basketball was helping keep OSU athletics afloat. Sutton's hoops commanded top dollar for tickets in the cozy gymnasium.

And those first few seasons in the expanded Gallagher-Iba did fill the coffers. All the tickets were sold those first few seasons, and Suttons' great 2004 and 2005 teams routinely packed Gallagher-Iba.

But the Sutton era ended, the basketball frenzy stopped and now the Cowboys draw about what they did in the good old days — 6,381, which makes for an antiseptic game day.

Much has changed other than just the quality of OSU hoop teams.

The national market for college basketball has sagged; drawing fans is a problem at most schools not named Duke, Kentucky and Kansas.

Plus, OSU people have another place to spend their money. Football has become king in Stillwater, with a ballpark makeover resulting in Boone Pickens Stadium that dwarfs even the Gallagher-Iba remodel.

Finally, there's the little matter of the Thunder sucking all basketball hysteria into its vacuum.

The expanded Gallagher was the brainchild of then-AD Terry Don Phillips, and it included all sorts of added benefits for OSU athletics. An academic center. New training rooms. New locker rooms. An O Club room for alums. A new wrestling facility. A new weight room in the old wrestling room. All needed, and money well spent.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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