I’ve been a University of Wisconsin sports fan since before I remember being one.
From a young age many of my first memories of UW’s campus come from inside the Kohl Center. My grandpa, probably the single biggest sports influence I had growing up, has always shared basketball season tickets with a few colleagues, so I’ve been lucky enough to go to games fairly regularly for the better part of my life.
As a result, the Kohl Center has become a holy place of sorts for me. It is the crossroads where my love of this university meets my love of sports and my family.
As a young kid — in the downtime between halves — my eyes were often drawn to the rafters of the Kohl Center and the many banners that hang from them. Each emblazoned with the past successes of teams over the years — whether it be the six national championships for men’s hockey — 1973, 1977, 1981, 1983, 1990 and 2006 — or the lone NCAA basketball title in 1941.
It used to give me chills to think about what those seasons must have been like, to get to be a fan of a team that was that talented or to see players that must have been the best the country had to offer.
And I know I am not the only one this rings true for.
However, coming soon to a Kohl Center near you that will all be gone — well it will be different at least.
The Wisconsin State Journal originally reported Tuesday that The Kohl Center would be removing the banners to instead replace them with fewer “uncluttered” electronic banners that could — at the flip of a switch — be changed to reflect whichever team was currently using the venue.
That has since come out to be only half true.
In a tweet by Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Paul Capobianco, the intentions of the Athletic Department were made a bit clearer.
Virtual banners would not replace the real banners, but instead the rim around the stadium of the Kohl Center upper deck will become the new home to these UW successes.
Despite reports, there will not be virtual banners at Kohl. There will be recognition of each championship team on the 2nd concrete ring …
— Paul Capobianco (@BadgerMHockey) Oct. 15, 2013
Much like Wisconsin fans might already be familiar with in Camp Randall, the years will be listed on that rim that juts out at the bottom of the deck instead.
While this has been met with some resistance on Twitter, the Athletic Department has mostly stayed very hush-hush about the transition.
— Cago (@CagoActivities) October 15, 2013
@BadgerMHockey when you win a championship, you raise a banner. You don’t slap some numbers and letters on concrete.
— John Okray (@JohnnyOeleven) October 15, 2013
@BadgerMHockey Just Hang the darn banners!
— Dan Diehn (@DanDiehn) October 15, 2013
Which leaves me with just one question: Why?
This seems to be a recurring theme for the Wisconsin Athletic Department. They decide something needs to change, and then they do it. No questions asked. Need another example? Think to the recent shift to a new food vendor for sporting events this year. Reviews for that haven’t been great either so far.
Nowhere in this process does it seem there is room for fans to have much chance at providing input, despite the very glaring fact that it is fan ticket purchases that bring in the revenue that makes many of these programs possible.
The reason cited for the upcoming change is that the Kohl Center rafters have become cluttered, and it is hard to see each of the banners as a result.
I think I speak for almost everybody in regards to the cluttered rafters when I say, “good!”
That “clutter” means Wisconsin sports have been doing great things, and frequently too.
Banners and basketball — or even hockey — have gone hand in hand for the better part of a century.
Take a look at some of the big names in college basketball, Assembly Hall in Indiana or the Dean Smith Center in North Carolina, and you’ll find banners hanging from the rafters steeped in tradition.
Once a team wins a National Championship, there is something goose bump-inducing about getting to see that winning team raise the banner to the rafters, where its accomplishment will forever hang among the other greats to have graced the court or the rink for Wisconsin.
There’s something about those banners hanging there that gives an arena a homey feel to it, something plastic lettering on a concrete rim can’t replicate.
For fans like my Grandpa, who has been cheering the same team on since 1959 when he began attending UW, those banners and the numbers on them are more than just a statistic, they are a team — a memory to a thrilling season or a big win against one of the national heavyweights.
While my fandom may be relatively young, I already have positive associations with certain seasons up on those banners. On the banner signifying the years that Wisconsin has qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the year 2013 will be up there soon, if it has not already been added.
That year will forever be burned into my brain as the year I witnessed Wisconsin beat a highly-touted Michigan team in overtime after a buzzer-beating three pointer tied the game in regulation.
Those banners represent memories.
It would be wrong to take them down, even if alternative methods were developed to recognize those seasons.
As far as I’m concerned, the banners aren’t just in the Kohl Center, but they have become a part of the Kohl Center itself.
Nick is a senior majoring in journalism and political science. Think the Kohl Center has gotten too cluttered? What do you think the Athletic Department should do to remedy the situation? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or send him a tweet @np_daniels.