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Jensen: Villanova ponders Pavilion renovations in wake of national title

Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson realizes he isn't the type to sit stone-faced on press row watching a Wildcats team. In Houston, Jackson went for the front row of Villanova's fan section in the stands during the Final Four.

Steven M. Falk/Staff file photo

Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson realizes he isn't the type to sit stone-faced on press row watching a Wildcats team. In Houston, Jackson went for the front row of Villanova's fan section in the stands during the Final Four.

"I try to stay calm and cool," Jackson said last week. But the last couple of minutes of a game for a national championship? "I couldn't really function. I couldn't speak. I remember my wife whispering in my ear, 'Are you sure you want to do this for the rest of your life?' " A reasonable question, answered quickly by the "pure jubilation" of the national title.

He was hired last August after a stint as senior associate athletic director at Southern California, and it's obvious what the priorities are for Jackson. Other than keeping Jay Wright in the fold, the top one has to be the reimagining of the Pavilion. Maybe the place was worthy of the 1985 NCAA champions, but it really hasn't changed much since and simply isn't worthy of a 2016 champion.

"I understand the shortcomings," Jackson said. "The issue for me, it goes beyond even access to tickets. The building is falling apart. There are just things we need to do to upgrade it."

In a perfect world, they'd start over, but perfection probably doesn't exist in Radnor Township. Also, Jackson points out that the Pavilion is a multipurpose facility, and each of those purposes must be considered.

Part of the reason Jackson was hired was that he was in charge of USC's major renovation of the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Nobody has ever accused the Pavilion of being that kind of iconic venue, but it is the home of Villanova's flagship program. It's time it looked and acted like it.

"I've been to Louisville now, I've been to Xavier, I've been to Virginia," Jackson said. "I know what we're competing against."

He also knows Villanova's coach naturally wants what others already have. The only conversations with Wright on the topic, Jackson said, have been "40,000-foot conversations, we haven't gotten into the details," but Jackson also talked of how Wright wants both a better A-to-Z experience for his players and also to make it the place "where he can tell his story." That's important, Jackson said, for fans and for donors and for recruiting.

As this project moves on, both Wright and women's coach Harry Perretta will be heavily involved, Jackson said, as will many others. But they are not close to that yet, he added (and kept adding).

Will a national title cause Villanova to think bigger when it comes to the Pavilion? Jackson said the goals remain the same. All along, they've been trying to think big-picture.

"Not to say that we need to be anybody else," Jackson said. "This isn't an arms race for us. This is pure necessity."

Does Jackson, already quite familiar with the fund-raising trail, sense that a national title changes that landscape? Actually, he said, the studies he's seen and personal experience from USC's national titles in football tell him not necessarily.

"Saying there's a dramatic spike, everybody's opening their checkbooks up - it doesn't happen," Jackson said, explaining sometimes there's a mentality of, "The program's in the best place they've ever been in - what do they need my money for?" Jackson quickly added: "We don't want that to take place."

Villanova is not close to coming up with blueprints. "We have to be aligned with the university vision first - this is what we want to do. . . . For me, going through a real strategic process that gathers data, gathers analytics, let that drive the scope, the design - then we'll have to take it back to the board for approval," Jackson said. "There's a lot of work that has to happen between that point and board approval."

What part of his USC experience really comes into play here?

"You can't do it alone," Jackson said. "We're not a professional sports organization where you can focus on just that all the time. You need help. Especially at Villanova. The president is so intimately involved in athletics. Advancement is centrally located. There needs to be a sense of collaboration when it comes to the vision. . . . You have to admit what you don't know. To be honest, building a building that enhances the fan experience, meets the needs of both your basketball programs, and then generates revenue - there are experts. We've engaged in those early conversations. You need to lean on outside help."

Young alums do complain they can't get season tickets to Pavilion games, only to Wells Fargo Center games. How big an issue is this? It's still to be determined, Jackson said. Data needs to be gathered.

Here's the view from the outside: Whether the Pavilion roof and walls stay the same or not, the place needs to be completely reconfigured, first to become more intimate. In a perfect world, that would include also slightly increasing the capacity, understanding there will inevitably be new high-rent seats that produce revenue.

"If we do this, and we do it right, and we generate revenue, it not only helps basketball, it helps the other 23 programs that don't generate revenue," Jackson said. "It's critically important we get that right."

Bottom line: Anybody walking in the place should immediately know, from all angles, that national champions played there.