Amid the consternation regarding the misplaced baskets at the GHSA basketball championships earlier this month, there were plenty of calls to move the championships away from the Macon Coliseum.
"A prison without bars" was what one person on press row called the Coliseum. Maybe a little too dramatic an observation, perhaps, but let's face it, even with the work that has been done in recent years to take care of some of the worst issues, the Coliseum is still approaching 50 years old and has many of the flaws that come with a 50-year-old building.
A lot of arenas don't reach the 50-year mark. Most are either demolished or have their interiors gutted and rebuilt.
Then again, when an arena goes without a professional or collegiate sports tenant for nearly a decade, like the Coliseum did between SPHL entries, there isn't the demand for dramatic construction work.
Simply put, basketball is a one-week-a-year operation for the Coliseum. Set up the court for the Georgia finals, leave it up for the Harlem Globetrotters, then put the basketball equipment back into storage. Unless the Atlanta Hawks want to put a D-League team here -- the league is returning to the Southeast later this year with the Charlotte Hornets' entry in Greensboro, North Carolina -- there isn't going to be much demand for the Coliseum's basketball setup.
But would a refreshed approach to hosting the GHSA basketball championships in Macon be worth the investment? Perhaps.
Ideally, the GHSA would play its championship games in Philips Arena. The top high school basketball players in the state deserve to play on the top stage, and the home of the Hawks certainly is that top stage when it comes to basketball in Georgia. The team already conducts marketing efforts at the state finals, and a move to that building certainly would face little argument.
If the GHSA can't get Philips Arena, however, the state association doesn't have many choices available. And that provides an opening for Macon to continue hosting the event.
If Macon is going to host the tournament properly, two things have to be done: refurbish the Coliseum and organize a host committee.
As much as the Coliseum's condition is criticized, steps have been taken in recent years to improve some of the fan and player experience at the state finals. Seating areas were overhauled, not only to replace broken seats but also to bring fans closer to the action with floor seating added behind the baselines. The floor, which likely will need to be replaced soon because of its age, was resurfaced and looks good on television. An old, basic scoreboard was replaced with new -- yet still basic -- scoreboards.
Compared to Florida's state basketball finals, Georgia actually has a better fan experience at the Coliseum. Florida uses The Lakeland Center, a smaller facility where the seats are far from the court. Depth perception is an even bigger issue there, and a small crowd can feel like no crowd at all.
Still, there's construction work that needs to be done in order for the Coliseum to properly host the state finals. Restrooms, locker rooms and concession stands need to be addressed, along with issues with cell phone service inside the arena and the ability to hear the public address system clearly.
There are also the issues surrounding the hosting of the event, the handling of the numerous small details that allows an event like the state finals to operate well.
Right now, the GHSA works directly with Coliseum management to put on the event. Details like basket placement and parking lot management have slipped through the cracks. Would those issues slip through the cracks if a group dedicated to hosting the tournament in Macon, a group that serves as a liaison between the GHSA, teams, media and others, were in place? More than likely not, especially if the group is invested in the community.
With some effort, both in terms of physical improvements and logistics, the Coliseum can become a quality home for the state basketball finals. An organized effort would provide a strong counterweight to bids from recently remodeled arenas in Duluth and Savannah, as well as facilities in Columbus and Augusta (and, for that matter, Georgia and Georgia Tech) that are large enough to host the event.
There is an avenue that Macon's leaders can take to help the Coliseum overcome its negative reputation and become a site that people from across the state want to come to for the state basketball finals. But can they pull it off?
Kind of sounds similar to the crossroads the Macon Braves faced 15 years ago, doesn't it?
Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org