Opinion: Thompson-Boling Arena Needs Facelift

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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)


A week doesn't go by where my 3-year-old son doesn't ask to go see the Sunsphere.

This has been a thing with him for about a year now. He's enamored with it.

And should we entertain his request, we also end up abiding by his wishes to see the "Big Basketball" - the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

And there's always a customary cruise by Neyland Stadium.

He never wants to see Thompson-Boling Arena.

He has yet to ask what it is. We drove right past it last week and not a peep left his lips about it.

Arguably the biggest eyesore on campus at the University of Tennessee can't aesthetically pique the interest of a kid despite the fact that its sheer size can house more than 20,000 fans and despite the fact that Pat Summitt once graced its hallways and floor.

I don't blame him.

Thompson-Boling's facade did little to entice me while a student there.

Don't get me wrong. It has its merits.

You can read all about Thompson-Boling and the arena's recent renovations on UTSports.com. It'll also tell you how, from floor to ceiling, Thompson-Boling is the equivalent of a 12-story building. You'll read of how it's the third-largest on-campus basketball arena in the country. And you'll even see where the octagonal roof measures 142,000 square feet.

It's monstrous.

But big doesn't always mean memorable, and Thompson-Boling's shell is as bland as a Kevin O'Neill offensive skills camp.

I can only imagine the brainstorm session that went into designing the place.

"What if we built an arena that looks like a Texas Toast sandwich? Who's in?"

Everyone was, apparently.

What were the designs that were rejected?

Anyway, it's time for an extreme home makeover — basketball arena edition.

First impressions can mean everything for fans and recruits alike. Tennessee has focused on second impressions. Dozens of millions of dollars have been poured into Thompson-Boling's innards since 2008, while its 30-year-old exterior is the shag carpet of the SEC.

To be a neighbor of Neyland and juxtaposed with a river, Thompson-Boling should have outward style and flair. It deserves better and more modern digs.

I'm no HGTV house flipper, but maybe Thompson-Boling could have alternating orange and white panels, paying homage to former men's coach and tradition innovator Ray Mears.

Maybe it could get Nike involved. Let them put a huge Swoosh on the outside in exchange for some design creativity.

A Smokey Grey look with hints and highlights of orange and white could really make the place pop.

Or, I don't know, turn the whole outside of it into a mountain and further feed into the Rocky Top pageantry. The design crew at Dollywood could probably lend a helping hand with that.

Not only would it grab the attention of media and recruits nationwide, it would also contribute to the overall feel and look of football Saturdays near Neyland. Don't think it will work? See Boise State's always identifiable blue turf.

In the SEC, there's an absolute legit arms race to have the best and most attractive facilities.

I know I'm not the first to say Thompson-Boling needs a wardrobe change. Maybe Tennessee has looked into it, and it just didn't pass the feasibility test.

Maybe changes are coming down the line.

Either way, this call for change won't find a resolution fast. So, next week, it's back to the Sunsphere.


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July 12, 2017


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