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IPFW’s Frank Gaines shoots, while in the background, a vast majority of seats remain empty at Memorial Coliseum.

IPFW men set to play on campus

Team leaving Coliseum for cozier Gates Center

After 10 years of calling Memorial Coliseum home, the IPFW men’s basketball team is returning to its on-campus Hilliard Gates Center facility to play its home games, beginning next season.

The Mastodons, who have played the majority of their home games at the Coliseum since 2003-04, will continue to play select games at the Coliseum but will have most of their games at the recently renovated Gates Center.

The 1,875-seat gym is the men’s team’s practice facility and also home to IPFW women’s basketball and the men’s and women’s volleyball teams.

According to IPFW athletic director Tommy Bell, a six-month study conducted by the school’s executive MBA class recommended that to increase student attendance at men’s basketball games, the events should be played at the on-campus Gates Center.

“I think we’re going to see our student attendance jump 100 to 200 percent,” Bell said. “At the Coliseum, we averaged 139 (students) a game. I think at the Gates Center, we’re going to see 200 to 300, up to 400 a game. We had a game at the Coliseum where we had less than 40 students one night.”

Last season, IPFW ranked sixth in the Summit League in average home attendance with 1,443. With the Gates capacity at 1,875, the Mastodons will go from playing in the largest Summit League arena to the second smallest.

Only IUPUI’s 1,215-seat “Jungle” is smaller, although the Jaguars are expected to move into the renovated 6,800-seat Pepsi Coliseum in 2014. That will make the Gates Center the smallest basketball arena in the conference.

“I think there are positives and negatives,” IPFW coach Tony Jasick said of the move. “From a university standpoint, with regards to trying to continue to build our on-campus atmosphere, trying to become more student friendly, it’s a good move. I think the access to the games – the expense of the games for our students – will become nothing versus having to get in the car, having to take a bus, having to pay for parking … we’ve eliminated all of that.”

The negative, he said, is that the Coliseum was an impressive recruiting tool.

“The Coliseum is where we start most of our visits,” Jasick said. “From our perspective, it is a recruiting advantage to bring a kid into the Coliseum during the summer and during the spring. The good news is we will continue to recruit the Coliseum because they’ll get an opportunity to play there. That’s why I think it’s positive we’re not cut and dried – boom, we’re out, never going back.”

Bell, who said the Summit League has been notified and has approved the change, added that IPFW hopes to play its homecoming games at the Coliseum as well as against larger Division I schools that agree to visit Fort Wayne.

Gates Center improvements, including the addition of 750 chair-back seats, were part of a nearly $43 million renovation project. The majority of the cost was spent on the construction of a 170,000-square-foot Student Services Complex that houses three basketball courts and a 200-meter, state of the art indoor track. Restrooms, concession areas, administrative and coaches’ offices and ticket areas were also part of the upgrade.

Bell said there are plans to add a new video scoreboard inside the Gates Center.

The men’s basketball schedule will be released this summer.

stwarden@jg.net

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