This guest post comes to the Deseret News Cougar Blog from Samuel Benson, a Bleacher Report writer who covers BYU sports
You’ve heard of the toughest college basketball venues to play in – Cameron Indoor Stadium, Allen Fieldhouse, Rupp Arena.
But the Marriott Center, the 20,900-seating arena in Provo, Utah, put together an atmosphere last night against Gonzaga that could rival even that of UNC’s famed Dean Smith Center.
If the Cougars put together last night’s crowd every game, could BYU’s 41-year-old arena become one of the loudest, most well-known venues in the nation?
If they did, it surely would become a terrifying arena to play in. But how, looking at the weak conference in which BYU competes and annual struggles, could the Cougs produce that great of a crowd?
Last night against Gonzaga, Cougar fans were packed into the Marriott like sardines, and it was by far the loudest the building had been since the magical 2010-11 season. Whistles and the buzzer wear barely audible because of the raucous crowd, and the student section, the ROC, was louder than ever.
Imagine a crowd like that for every game — that type of crowd may have prevented an embarrassing home loss against San Francisco and could’ve led to an upset against then-unbeaten Baylor last season. Anything can happen when you have 21,000 fans against a visiting teams’ five players.
So, what can BYU do to draw huge crowds for every game? They surely won’t get that many for games against teams in the WCC like Portland and San Diego; they need to join a better conference, with big teams and big venues.
Imagine a Cougar squad playing in the Big 12 with players like Ben McLemore and Pierre Jackson visiting Provo regularly. Meetings with Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma State would draw huge numbers, and there is no way big contests like those wouldn’t appeal to fans.
Recruiting could also pick up by joining a “Big Six” conference like the Big 12. Prep players want to be able to play on huge stages against some of the best teams in the country. Honestly, half of the arenas of the WCC are the size of most high school gyms, and what kind of athlete wants to play in front of less than 3,000 fans?
All in all, some conferences don’t want BYU; the Cougs don’t want others. Non-Sunday play will be a hard obstacle to hurdle when it comes to a conference affiliation, as will their deals with ESPN and BYUtv. But joining a major conference would profit not only basketball, but football and the other sports greatly.
BYU will never shake the mid-major title they possess until they can join a major conference, and the sooner, the better. Who knows, the Marriott Center could someday be one of the best venues in the country.
Samuel Benson covers BYU basketball on Bleacher Report. @SamBBenson