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.
But 7,230 additional seats?
You can't blame Phillips for not seeing the future. It would take quite the visionary to see all that's happened since.
Boone and Mike Gundy and Brandon Weeden. The Fall of the House of Sutton. The NBA in Oklahoma, much less a zenith like the Thunder. No one saw any of that coming, much less all of it.
But the idea that OSU could sustain 13,000-plus seats post-Sutton? That was a legit concern for anyone paying attention. Getting 3,000 people to drive from Oklahoma City and Tulsa on a winter Wednesday night is one thing. Getting 8,000 to make that drive is quite another.
“All you have to do is come to the arena and look around,” Holder said. “It's challenging.
“That being said, there's really no option here than to fill it up. That's the standard that's been set when we opened the arena.
“Plenty of blame to go around, I'll take my share of it. The status quo is not acceptable. We're going to do everything we can to reverse the trend.”
The students are the first priority. In the previous Gallagher, students received approximately 1,700 tickets per game and a student season ticket was good for only half the games. Students had to alternate.
In the new Gallagher, 2,500 students have bought season tickets, but Holder said 600 haven't even picked up their tickets yet, and it's late January.
Do the math. More students are buying tickets now than in the old days. But in an arena more than twice the size, you never would know it.
“Within 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 yards of our arena is our most important constituency,” Holder said. “That's not only our present, that's our future. If we don't capture 'em while they're here on campus, we've probably lost them for good.
“They bring the atmosphere. They make it a lot more exciting for everyone, especially for guys my age. We don't bring a lot of energy into the game. We may think we do, but we don't.”
And thus OSU games are but a shell of what they once were, even though often just as many people are going to games as in the 1990s. The new Gallagher-Iba is beautiful. But OSU would be better off with the old Gallagher-Iba.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.