Towson men's basketball coach Pat Skerry is seen inside… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
It's pretty safe to say that Towson University has been a PR disaster of late.
From the ham-handed way it tried to cut its baseball and men's soccer teams to the knuckleheads talking about forming a White Student Union, the school's been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
So let's talk about something positive today: Towson's new 5,200-seat arena is about ready to open. And it's a beauty.
Before we go any further, I feel compelled to report that as of right now, it's being called Tiger Arena.
But the school has hired a company to troll for naming rights. So any day now, they could slap another soul-less name on the place like Verizon Wireless Arena or Taco Bell Center or whatever.
But that's the world we live in. State schools need every penny they can get. If they have to sell their souls to a corporate master to get a few bucks, they'll do it in a heartbeat.
But back to the arena. As you approach from the bottom of Auburn Drive, it looms like a glass-and-brick basketball Taj Mahal across from Johnny Unitas Stadium.
Inside, it's got all the bells and whistles you'd expect.
It's got a massive, four-sided video screen scoreboard hanging from the ceiling. It's got fancy Tiger stripes and Tiger paws painted on the court.
The seats are black and gold and the sight lines from just about anywhere are terrific. There are four luxury suites that'll have all the usual amenities: leather sofas, flat-screen TV's the size of highway billboards, wet bars, mini-fridges, etc.
It's big-league all the way and represents a new era for Towson basketball, which has seen its program rejuvenated under second-year coach Pat Skerry and wants to capitalize on that momentum.
"The big thing is, you want people to have atmosphere and experience," Skerry said Wednesday, looking around the place. "And I think you can have both here. It's going to be a pretty special place in our conference (Colonial Athletic) and the Mid-Atlantic Region.
"One thing we need to do is continue to invest in men's basketball," he continued. "We have the potential for a great return as far as broadcasting our university and what it stands for. Every day you look at schools that have success in men's basketball and it helps your university across the board. I really believe that."
Much as I absolutely hate this phrase, the "fan experience" will be a lot nice nicer in the new place than the old 5,000-seat Towson Center, where the Tigers played since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
The new arena has three big concession stands and 14 restrooms. And they're not on top of each other, either. Which means no more dueling lines of people waiting to get a hotdog or a soda intersecting with people waiting to use the men's room, like in the Towson Center.
Oh, that was a nice touch. And with the new video scoreboard and LED lighting that can darken the place and bounce colors everywhere, the Tigers will have the kind of pumped-up, spotlight-swirling player intros that have become de rigueur to get the crowd in the game from the get-go.
"It's gonna be loud," Skerry says, a big smile creasing his face. And what coach doesn't want it eardrum-shattering loud in his own building?
The Towson players themselves are going to love the new arena, too.
Their locker room will have plush carpeting, three big flat-screen TV's, leather couches, video-game capabilities, as well as two computer stations and tables and chairs for eating.
"It's a good place to build and develop chemistry," director of basketball operations Mike Swets said. And when he talks about chemistry, he's not talking about players mixing beakers over a flame and discussing the nature of organic compounds.
He's talking about a comfortable place for the players to hang out and bond.
The Ravens did the same thing — although obviously on a much larger scale — with the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills. The place is loaded with so many cool things to do — racquetball, basketball, HDTV's , pinball machines, pool tables, spinning classes — you could call in a bomb scare and the players wouldn't leave.
Skerry and Swets are going for the same thing at their new place. And with four starters and seven other players who saw extensive action returning from last year's team that finished 18-13 and 13-5 in the CAA (tied for second with Delaware), there should be plenty of bonding going on.
Tiger Arena — it has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? It'd be nice if they keep that name for a while.
But I wouldn't count on it.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."