Iconic Raised Floor in Danger, Whether U of M Renovates Williams Arena or Builds New

Gophers bench (1972) - Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota is going to have a new place for the Gophers basketball team to play home games soon. Actually, it seems more likely at this point, that they will remain in the same brick building they’ve played games in since since 1928, Williams Arena, better known around the country as the Barn.

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Arguments are still being made and opinions still being heard, on whether or not there will be a new multi-sport arena built in Dinkytown or if the University will opt for a renovation of the nearly 100-year-old Barn. Steam most recently has been behind the latter.

Williams Arena raised floor in danger of being lowered

Williams Arena inaugural Minnesota Gophers men's basketball game 1928
Williams Arena inaugural Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball game (1928) – Photo Courtesy of the University of Minnesota

But it seems that no matter where future Gophers basketball home games are played, whether it be at renewed Williams Arena or a brand new state of the art building, one iconic element in Minnesota basketball history and a very key component of what makes the Barn so unique, may be eliminated. The raised floor (which wasn’t completed yet when the Gophers played on it for the first time (see above).

According to what sources in the U of M athletic department are telling Marcus Fuller (Star Tribune), the only raised floor in the entire country is in danger of being lowered, even if the Barn remains standing. Why?

Safety is always a concern with the raised floor, but in reality, it’s seems to be a problem when the University wants to host non-basketball arena events, specifically naming the NCAA volleyball tournament as one even they’ve apparently lost due to the raised hardwood at Williams Arena.

The Barn’s raised floor has been one important talking point. It has a unique place in college basketball but creates challenges when it comes to bidding to host such events as the NCAA volleyball tournament.

Marcus Fuller – Star Tribune

Renovate the Barn but don’t eliminate the raised floor

1949 Williams Arena – Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

As a 34-year-old Gophers fan, that’s fine by me. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, there’s no reason to tear down the one thing that makes the University of Minnesota basketball program unique, and that’s the Barn. She’s never had a full-scale renovation.

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So invest a bunch of money into her (still half as much as what you’d spend on something new) and show her renewed beauty to the nation for another 50 years. I love a lot of things about Williams Arena, not just the raised floor, but there’s no doubt that is a large chunk of the old building’s charm and seeing it go would be a massive disappointment.

Gophers head basketball coach, Ben Johnson agrees. He points to recruiting, because he needs to come up with a tangible reason why keeping the floor makes sense, but it’s way bigger than recruiting. Much like the Barn is a staple of Minnesota basketball history, so is the raised floor.

“I think [the raised floor is] something that we talk about,” Johnson said. “I’m not the decision-maker. But I would say that it gives us something unique. In recruiting, you’re always looking for something to sell. What can separate you? What makes a visit memorable? That’s something that’s different than any other program in the country.”

Ben Johnson (via Star Tribune)

Renovation is most fiscally responsible option for University of Minnesota

1970’s Williams Arena – Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Mark Coyle tells the Star Tribune that a big part of the basketball arena conversation is cost. A new arena would cost the most money and it probably brings, at least, volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics into one building, which could save down the road.

But no doubt, the cheapest option for the University would be a renovation project for Williams Arena. And this seems like a very rare opportunity for a public institution to pick the cheapest option on the table and still appease most of the masses.

It’s important to remember that Maturi Pavillion, where the Gophers volleyball team plays, is inside Williams Arena. A renovation project of the right size and magnitude could make multiple sports happier. As long as they invested enough money and focused on the right things, everyone can win.

Related: U of M Athletic Director Mark Coyle Receives Raise + Contract Extension, Pending Board Approval

But if they are going to keep the Barn, and even if you don’t, the raised floor should stay. It’s 2024, you can’t tell me we can’t have some sort of customized temporary floor that builds around the raised floor that already exists. Alumni agree. Keep the raised floor, no matter what.

“The building itself is almost 100 years old. You could still have a raised court. Many of the people I’ve talked to, the older booster club members and fans, say if they saved the raised court that’s great.”

Gophers boosters president, Jim Cormier, at recent Golden Dunkers event (via Star Tribune)

Hey people, it’s 2024… right?

1980s Williams Arena – Photo courtesy of the University of Minnesota

Look, this isn’t rocket science. It’s floor science; literally the opposite of rocket science. If all the PhD engineering degrees put together at the University of Minnesota can’t figure out how to hide a raised floor when events want to come into Dinkytown, then what kind of degrees are we giving out at the ‘prestigious’ College of Science and Engineering, which proudly states on its website that its engineering program ranks top-25 in the country…

“All University of Minnesota Twin Cities science and engineering graduate programs were recently ranked among the top 25 public university programs in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.”

U of M College of Science and Engineering – Website Front Page

I can’t believe this is even a discussion. I know the Barn was built in 1928 but that’s not the year we live in anymore. At the least, we should be able to build temporary raised sections that can be installed around the permanently raised platform in the middle of Williams Arena. When needed, you roll them out and lock them into place safely?

Again, I’m not the one with an advanced engineering degree, like many employed by the University of Minnesota. So let’s get someone on this apparently huge obstacle? So we don’t have to eliminate college basketball history from campus and a main element of what makes U of M basketball unique to other programs around the country, just because we can’t think outside the raised floor.