Friday night, the Covelli Center, tucked right behind the scoreboard of Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium, hosted the first Ohio State Women’s Volleyball match of the season. The No. 7 Buckeyes welcomed the No. 2-ranked Texas Longhorns for the first of two games over the weekend. While the Buckeyes lost Friday and Saturday, the atmosphere and energy made a basketball writer jealous. But there’s a way to fix it: put the Ohio State women’s basketball team in Covelli for their home court.
Before there’s too much said on this topic, this is not an attempt at St. John’s Arena erasure. Land-Grant Holy Land has a rich history of being on the side of the house former men’s basketball coach and athletic director Lynn St. John built, but we’re dealing with a more realistic idea in 2022.
While the volleyball results didn’t fall Ohio State’s way, the Covelli Center was electric. Before the first serve, a capacity crowd of 3,700 held up scarlet glow sticks in a pitch black arena, captured by the Big Ten Network below.
In that crowd were members of the women’s basketball team. Here are a few reasons why head coach Kevin McGuff’s side should pack up and head down to Covelli too.
The most obvious is the atmosphere. For anyone that’s been in the Schottenstein Center to watch the Buckeyes, it’s a hollow cavern made more for concerts and Monster Jam events than collegiate competition.
Even with a covered nosebleed section, there are large gaps of empty seats for a team that has 16 Big Ten regular season titles — six more than anyone else in the conference. There’s no home court advantage when the arena can’t get filled with noise. When it can’t fill with noise, it’s not an environment that attracts casual fans.
For casual fans, it’s not exactly an atmosphere that brings you back. Even with the media and arena teams doing an amazing job of having games, creative engagement on the videoboard and more to keep all ages connected, the Schott is a place where a newcomer can get lost easily.
Access is key. The Covelli Center corridor is what you see above the court. Instead of trying to find the right stairwell or an escalator that probably isn’t going the direction you want, everything is within close proximity. Unless you like the excess thousands of steps you get at the Schott, the Covelli Center is central and easy to get around.
Currently, games feature a crowd of devoted fans, friends and family. Every so often the band joins the fun and a few rows of the student section get filled. In the 2021-22 championship season, only twice did Ohio State bring in more than Covelli’s 3,700 capacity. A loss against the Michigan Wolverines and a convincing senior day victory against the Wisconsin Badgers.
In 16 home games last season, the Buckeyes averaged 3,274 spectators per game. Put that amount of fans in the Covelli center, with its more inviting and what real estate agents would call “cozy” confines, it would help with the next point.
Home Court Advantage
With games played at Covelli, where people feel part of the action, more people will want to attend. When more people attend, it does a couple things.
First, it allows less opposing fans into the building. No one watches a Duke men’s basketball game to hear visiting fans cheering against the home team. When Ohio State welcomes rivals like Michigan, or what will happen this year when the Tennessee Volunteers come to town, it becomes a game of which team has more fans.
Ohio State fans, family of players, students and alumni would much rather have a large crowd of scarlet than orange or Michigan yellow in the stands. Create an allotment for the team’s family, students, the general public and then some for the visiting team. More than likely it’ll be the Buckeyes receiving more representation in the seats.
Even better, make a devoted student section and get it filled game in and game out, something that isn’t happening today.
Second, it creates demand. When there are less seats available for a building that gives the home team a boost of crowd energy, the demand is higher. It goes back to the old saying, “people want what they can’t have.”
If there are situations where the demand for tickets warrants it, then sure, open up the Schott. Better yet, open St. John’s for Michigan every season that the building still stands. Make it even more of an event that people can circle on their calendars.
A final element that should be a large slice of the “why Ohio State women’s basketball should play at the Covelli Center” pie chart are the players themselves. Last season, the Buckeyes faced the Cincinnati Bearcats at Covelli. After the game, when asked by the media about the Covelli Center, players liked playing there.
The facilities are newer and its built exclusively for college athletics. The Buckeyes began playing there for closed door games during the height of the pandemic. Having fans in attendance heightened it for those competing.
Also, a small benefit to the players, and a lone positive for media folks covering, is the player interview environment. Currently, at the Schottenstein Center, select players and coach McGuff meet the media in a hallway that’s usually interrupted with arena crew breaking down for the next event or the occasional men’s basketball player leaving their area of the Schott.
At the Covelli Center, there’s a dedicated media room that doubles as a film space for teams. In it, a player can stand behind a podium and answer questions uninterrupted. A little detail that makes the moment feel more professional.
Whether the Buckeyes stay in their current arena, move to Covelli or continue to split their time every now and then, Ohio State is a team that’s shown that they’re deserving of being a hot ticket in town for sports fans.
Its time for the players to know that when they stop onto the court.