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It’s time for Northern Michigan University to commit to hoops with a real home for the ’Cats

February 20, 2011
By MATT WELLENS Journal Sports Editor

Northern Michigan University men's basketball coach Doug Lewis and head women's coach Troy Mattson very much want the same things out of their current positions.

They want to win a GLIAC title. They would like to reach the NCAA Division II tournament, even the Final Four. Making a run at an NCAA title is a dream for both coaches as well I'm sure.

I have no doubt that both Lewis and Mattson can accomplish these goals someday, despite the uphill battles they fight at a school like NMU, where funding doesn't match the Grand Valley States of the Div. II world and the nine months of snow can scare kids off.

It's another goal, however, of both coaches that I am skeptical about and that is packing the Berry Events Center full of basketball fans. That I just can't see happening.

The Berry is definitely a unique facility when it comes to basketball, and not in a good way. It's a hockey rink with some hardwood thrown down in the middle of it. I'm sure plenty have proclaimed just and hour or two before tip off when first seeing the set up, "They sure better hurry up and finish converting the building before warmups start, eh?"

I know that's what ran through my mind the first time I saw it back in 2003.

It's like NMU doesn't even try to hide that they are playing basketball in a hockey rink.

Some simple cosmetic improvements would help, such as large, black curtains that blocks off the always empty, dark sections of 3-9 and 13-19, which also still have the netting and glass from hockey in place. The curtains would create a more intimate atmosphere for hoops, which does not need the 3,800 seats required for hockey games.

Second, cover up the hockey benches with tarps displaying the Wildcat logo, or better yet, sell some advertising. Just do something to trick my mind into thinking I'm at a basketball venue, and not an ice rink.

These small enhancements only hide the building's flaws for hoops and do nothing to address the seating problem, which makes fans chose between uncomfortable bleachers, standing or sitting away from the action in the seats that were built for hockey.

It honestly astounds me that Mattson and Lewis can convince any high school athlete to come play ball at NMU and speaks volumes to their ability to sell themselves as coaches.

Lots have tried to point fingers and place the blame on the players and coaches, not the facility, for the lack of attendance and fan support. One coward even sent Troy Mattson an unsigned letter recently blaming the coach for the empty stands.

Mattson's Wildcats posted 107 points on Thursday. He's far from the problem. The fact is, Lewis' team could do the same - and will in the future once he cleans house and brings in some recruits that fit his up-tempo system.

But even if both teams posted 200 points on opponents a night, they Berry would still be an awful basketball facility.

Northern needs to step up and be more aggressive in its attempt to secure a basketball-specific facility for the future in order to show it is committed to the sport. The university can start with the simple cosmetic enhancements I mentioned to the BEC while the fundraising takes place.

Hockey, football, volleyball and even soccer - you know, the so-called European sport - all have their own facilities built specifically for their needs. Yet basketball sits without a home of its own.

Let's make the basketball programs home-owners, not squatters, because then we will see what Mattson and Lewis can really do with a facility that makes recruits say, "Wow. I want to play here."

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His e-mail address is



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