This guy remembers being excited. A Villanova Law School graduate, he had tickets from the beginning of the Pavilion. He’s been all in.
This Pavilion renovation — turning it into the new Finneran Pavilion, named for the largest donor — sounded great. He’d heard Villanova had bought the actual floor from the 2016 national championship game, and you could now stand on the exact spot where Kris Jenkins launched his historic game-winner.
Whoa, not so fast, sir.
Steps inside the front of the Pavilion, a couple of Villanova ushers checked tickets and wristbands. He had season tickets, but that wasn’t going to get him downstairs.
“We can’t go down there,’’ the guy remembers his son saying. “That’s for big donors.”
He did not even know there was a yet another level of donations needed to get from the general downstairs area to the O’Toole Club, home to the Jenkins spot.
“We donated a good bit,’’ the man said. “Plus, we paid for the tickets.”
He didn’t want his name used. His season tickets are transitioning to his son, he said, and he doesn’t want to create problems for his boy. But he’s not the only one shaking his head at this whole Upstairs-Downstairs caste system based on donations.
“I got a T-shirt, 'One Nova Nation,’ ‘’ the guy said. “I thought we were one Nova Nation. Obviously, we’re not now.”
He gets the idea of offering seats based on donation levels. Truth is, the old-timers had it good at Villanova for a long time, renewing their seats without heavy-duty extra monetary demands. The fact Villanova won two NCAA titles with that as the backdrop is rare in today’s sports world. That was going to change. It has changed.
Doubling the price of tickets or more didn’t faze too many. Few had a kind word for the old Pavilion and realized a renovation would cost everybody a little bit. Another long-timer said he tried to guess what kind of donation would get him to about the eighth row.
“I did the calculus wrong,’’ he said, suggesting he wasn’t willing to go as high as $50,000 with his donation. “But, they got more donations. Good for them.”
Nobody is oblivious to big-time college sports being a money-making and money-spending enterprise.
“It’s like it’s in our face. We’re looking down, they’re down on the floor, and we can’t go down there,’’ the first long-timer said.
That’s an issue in the front lobby and also in the seats. Upstairs can’t go down. If your buddies are down there, and you just want to say, ‘Hi,’ they have to come up — you can’t go down. Part of it might be for traffic flow. The old Pavilion was a nightmare on flow. Now, there are multiple ways to the court area. If everyone hits the seats from the lower level, it would cause gridlock.
“I got a hot dog and a Coke,’’ the law-school grad said. “I’m walking around looking for a place to eat. I see a table; it says, ‘Reserved.’ ”
He found kind of a shelf with a seat overlooking the court. It also was reserved.
“I sit down, he said, which attracted attention.
“Sir, you can’t sit there.
“Where am I going to eat?
“OK, I’ll let you eat there, but then you’ve got to leave.”
If it makes him feel any better, some donors paid enough to get downstairs, but not into the O’Toole Club, and plenty of those O’Toole Club-ers can’t make it into the more-exclusive Davis Club at the opposite side of the Pavilion, behind the shaved glass past the baseline.
Mark Jackson, Villanova’s athletic director, knows the complaints. He points out the school “had a short window” to raise $65 million privately. The process is still evolving. The whole upstairs-looking-down fishbowl aspect will be evaluated, what worked and what didn’t.
“Our highest donors wanted exclusivity — they wanted a high-end club experience,’’ Jackson said, pointing out that it’s rare for Power 5 schools to not offer such clubs in their home venues.
“At the same time, we realized, because of the design, at most [venues] you don’t see the clubs,’’ Jackson said.
If they could have started from scratch, you’d no doubt also have seen more club boxes, like they have at the Liacouras Center and many other college venues, so the bigger payers have their own spots, without this behind-the-ropes effect being so noticeable.
Other than this fishbowl issue — which is an issue — most season-ticket holders seem to feel the renovation was well done. Villanova fans can get lost in their memories in the open-to-all area of the front of the Pavilion, basically a Hall of Fame of men’s and women’s hoops at the school. Having students all over also adds to the experience, since the greatest noise is coming from various angles. (How to get students in more easily has changed during the season, Jackson said, after talks with the student government.)
Ed Birchler always was an upstairs guy. His tickets two years ago, he said, had $30 each as the face value, with $40 as the price listed for Wells Fargo Center games.
“As I remember, it cost us $600 each for the season, which included a donation to the school,’’ Birchler, who said he’s been attending games since Al Severance was coach, mentioned in an email. Now, he said, he’s one section over, paying $1,200 per seat for the season, $100 per game.
Again, he had it good for a lot of years.
“Anxious to see how this situation plays out,’’ Birchler said, adding that he’s also ready to hand off his tickets to his son, if his son wants to pay. “Assume they will get the asking price if the team continues its recent successes. But, if there is a decline in the ranking, it could get interesting.”
Jackson said. “Our demand told us we probably could have gone higher on prices, but we didn’t. I like where we’re at.”
The university also owns the 2018 San Antonio Final Four court. Most of it will end up somewhere in the Pavilion, and don’t be surprised if it ends up where everyone can get to it. (Right now, you can go to a women’s game and put your feet on that Jenkins spot. Or you can take a tour during the day.)
There’s also another option, if you want your own piece of the 2018 national championship floor. You don’t need to get downstairs access at all.
At one recent game, little pieces of the floor from San Antonio were right by the front door — for sale, complete with a certificate of authenticity.