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All Get a Say in U ‘Barn’ Changes

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August 13, 2018

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Williams Arena is 90 years old. It’s one of the most storied basketball venues in America and a huge part of this state’s sports history. The building’s raised playing floor is unique and a focal point of the arena that opened in 1928.

The new look (photo courtesy Minnesota athletic communications)

As of this summer that floor has a new look with a gray-white paint job. Included in changes is floor signage more prominently referring to “The Barn,” the building’s nickname.

The floor has gone through various looks in the past, and the change now is dramatic. A half century ago the oak floor had a simple gold-like look, with signage limited to a block M in the center jump circle. More recently the floor has been a mix of gold (aged yellow?) and maroon, with the former having the emphasis.

The old look (photo courtesy Minnesota athletic communications)

The new coloring’s intent is to provide a “barn replica” appearance, according to Athletic Department spokesman Jake Ricker. Gone is the maroon border that contrasted sharply with the gold.

I am warming to the barn look but don’t time me with a stopwatch. Judging by photos, the change appears to create a lighter atmosphere in the arena. However, there is so much history and tradition to Williams Arena that my preference would be the simple oak colored floor of decades ago. To me, that appearance best honors the historic venue on University Avenue.

I never have liked references to “The Barn.” The building was named after the great Gopher football coach Dr. Henry Williams. Let’s honor Doc. We’re not rubes with eighth grade educations that play basketball in a barn. Students dressed as barnyard animals? Puh-leeze, not classy.

The Williams Arena floor needed renovation this year because of wear and tear. A bunch of folks at the U came up with and approved the design for the floor. It will probably be another seven to 10 years before renovation will be discussed again.

Ricker said although few fans have seen the floor yet, positive responses out-number negative. I reached out to more than 20 readers of my column for their take on the new look and “The Barn” nickname. They came back with varied views and emotions, with some reviewers saying they want to reserve final judgment until they can evaluate in person (thumbs up).

Here are many of the responses received by Sports Headliners (edited for brevity and clarity):

Jim Dutcher, former Gophers coach whose 1982 team won the Big Ten: “Anything they can ever do to update the building, I am all for it. If that includes the floor, go for it. …’The Barn’ is an affectionate term, not a derogatory term at all. For better or worse, people love ‘The Barn.’ “

George Dahl, a Gopher basketball fan since the early 1960s: “How long do you think a white floor at ‘The Barn’ will last before they spend more to redo it appropriately and maintain tradition? Whose idea was it? Terrible!”

Steve Hunegs, a season ticket holder since 1971: “I love the look. Reminds me of the simpler appearance of the (coach Bill) Musselman years (1970s). Of course the success of the basketball teams will enhance the look of the arena (even more). I have never cared for the nickname ‘The Barn.’ Dr. Williams was a great figure of Minnesota sports history and Williams Arena bears a certain historic power.”

Former Gopher and past season ticket holder Larry Overskei: “The color of the floor is much too light in color. A nice light oak would be preferred. Fans do not want to squint when watching a game. Creativity is sometimes overdone. Let’s just play basketball.”

Sam Sigelman, a Gopher season ticket holder: “Although I will miss the varnished dark maroon, I am open to the change and can’t wait to see the floor in person. While the nickname ‘The Barn’ emblazoned on the floor may be tacky to some, this is a much better outcome than the previous athletic director envisioned. I recall Mr. (Norwood) Teague openly discussing a new arena for men’s and women’s basketball. Considering this alternative, we should all embrace the new floor.”

Tom Klas, a fan for more than 45 years: “From the photos, it appears that the coloring of the lettering (on the floor) doesn’t match. ‘The Barn’ looks to be maroon. However, the balance of the lettering on the floor looks like it’s red. …And how is washed-out gray better than the traditional golden hue that is the coloring of the majority of basketball floors? To sum it up in two words: It stinks.”

Bob Klas Jr., Tom’s brother and a season ticket holder since 1973: “I wouldn’t miss Williams Arena if it were gone. I’m not one who is particularly nostalgic about its history, but unless and until it’s replaced, I think fans should embrace its uniqueness. So calling it ‘The Barn’ is fine with me.”

Pete Najarian, Gopher fan and former U football linebacker: “The new floor is beautiful. But…in my opinion we have pushed away from tradition on too many levels at the best school in the country.”

John Ferril, whose family were season ticket holders for nearly 30 years: “I like the name ‘The Barn.’ It gives it character. I like arenas and stadiums to have nicknames that are more reflective of the people, location, team and sponsors. Names like the ‘The Swamp,’ ‘The Shark Tank,’ ‘The Vault’ and my favorite, ‘The Igloo.’ As far as the new floor…it will take some getting used to. The white looks like a sheet of ice, like a hockey game can break out at any moment. Should be interesting to see in person for the first time, but quite honestly, the reality is that I don’t care what the floor looks like, just what the team on the floor looks like!”

Blake Hoffarber, former Gopher and now season ticket holder: “I think it looks pretty good. I like the fact that they put in ‘The Barn’ (lettering). I think that is what gives it character and what a lot of us fans know it as. I still wish the floor was raised as high as it used to be before my senior year, but it’s still one of the best places to play in the Big Ten!”

An anonymous Gopher season ticket holder since 1976: “My first reaction was not positive, looks like Mariucci Arena. I want to reserve judgment until I see it in person. I always thought the former floor was one of the best in the Big Ten. Maybe they should have had a fan survey to get a consensus before just coming up with such a drastic change. I haven’t talked to anyone who has had a positive reaction.”

Denny Schulstad, former season ticket holder: “There are modern professional stadiums and venues in other colleges, but none are as historic or mean as much as Williams Arena. I well remember the state basketball tournaments played there with people almost hanging off the rafters. The improvements made there have made it much more comfortable while still being historic. Yes, keep the name (‘The Barn’) and put it on the floor. We love it!”

Mark Lundgren, whose family has had season tickets for more than 50 years: “I’m not a fan of the light color, maybe it’s the lighting on the photos. I do embrace the history of the building and like ‘The Barn’ script (lettering). I also think it would have been better to keep the maroon band around the court. I’ll withhold judgment (about the floor) until I’m able to see it in person. More concerned with the team’s play than the floor!”

Bill Robertson, sports marketing expert and WCHA commissioner: “I like the new look overall. ‘The Barn’ is an iconic landmark on the University of Minnesota campus and that term resonates with the rich history of Gopher basketball. I applaud the move by Minnesota athletics in including floor lettering with the words ‘The Barn,’ as new traditions will be helpful in building a robust fanbase and generating more interest in the program overall.”

Tim Kelley, a Gopher fan for more than 30 years: “I like the new floor. I want the U to keep Williams Arena, but the U needs to find ways to update it. I’m guessing a new floor was an inexpensive way to update the arena. I’m fine with the U referring to the arena as ‘The Barn’—that’s the way most people refer to the arena.”

Mike Wilkinson, a Gopher fan since the 1950s: “I’m okay with the new look and ‘The Barn,’ which is a moniker that has been around for several decades and even has recognition outside of Minnesota.”

Adam Katz: “I think ‘The Barn’ concept while charming, hurts recruiting. The Twin Cities…is a destination to build a life after graduation as it is a center for Fortune 500 companies.”

Pete Hoffman: “I saw the new lighter floor on the news and it looks good. I think the goal was to brighten up the place. The U either needs to torch the place, or learn to embrace its age and history as an asset. Kind of like Wrigley (Field) and Fenway (Park).”

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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