UCLA to pick site for home games

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA fans will have a say in where the Bruins men's basketball team plays its home games next season.

Pauley Pavilion, UCLA's on-campus arena, will be shut down for a renovation project during the 2011-12 season, so the school sent surveys this week to season ticket holders and individuals who have purchased single-game tickets to gauge their interest in other possible venues.

The candidates are: The Los Angeles Sports Arena, The Honda Center in Anaheim, Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Staples Center, Valley View Casino Center in San Diego (formerly the San Diego Sports Arena) and RaboBank Arena in Bakersfield.

The most likely possibility is that some combination of those arenas will be used.

"I think without question we're looking at the Bruin road show next year," said Mark Harlan, UCLA's senior associate athletic director for external relations.

Harlan said the school will use the survey results to determine fan interest in attending games at the listed venues. UCLA hopes to have a decision made in the next two or three weeks.

"It will serve as a guide for leadership here to really put together the season for next year," Harlan said. "We'll look at the survey and get a general feeling of where the flow is going."

UCLA had been close to closing a deal to play all of its home games at The Forum in Inglewood, but the owners of Madison Square Garden have an option to purchase the Forum and plan on renovating it and making it into a concert-only venue, so it became unavailable.

The Sports Arena is the only one of the current candidates available for UCLA's entire 18-game home schedule next season. UCLA players said they prefer Staples Center, but that arena is available for only two UCLA home dates next season because of conflicts with the Lakers, Clippers and Kings.

The Honda Center is available for nine home games. Citizens Business Bank Arena is being considered for an exhibition game and a maximum of two regular-season games while the Bruins would consider RaboBank Arena in Bakersfield for only one game and Valley View Casino Center for a maximum of two.

"We're going to play wherever they tell us to play," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "It doesn't matter what my preference is. What matters is that we're going to be out of there for a year and it's obviously more difficult when you are traveling to a home game."

The women's basketball team, men's and women's volleyball teams and the gymnastic team also use Pauley Pavilion and will be shifted to the on-campus gym at the 2,500-seat John Wooden Athletic center "in all probability" a school spokesman said.

The L.A. Sports Arena seems to make the most sense for the men's basketball team because of its proximity and its availability. The drawback, however, is that it is the former home for UCLA's archrival USC, who played there until 2006, and is located adjacent to USC's campus.

Center Anthony Stover shuddered at that idea.

"I don't know if I want to be that close to SC," he said.

Harlan, acknowledged the possibility of fan backlash from playing in enemy territory and said that was one of the reasons for the survey.

"We need to hear from our fans, we need to talk to them a little bit more about that option," he said.

UCLA played at the Sports Arena from 1959-1965, winning two NCAA championships during that span. Harlan said officials from the Sports Arena have agreed to make cosmetic changes to the arena in order to make it feel more UCLA-friendly.

"As we've had conversations they are offering to do a lot of things to that venue that will make it more attractive," Harlan said. "We can't change where it is, but I think we can do some work. It's amazing what a little paint can do."

Proximity to UCLA is a top concern for UCLA players, who fear that they might lose their home court advantage if students are unable to easily travel to the chosen venue.

"There are some concerns," said junior guard Malcolm Lee. "Hopefully we can get whatever arena that's closest because most likely that is going to get more of the student body in there. Home court advantage is real important."

Howland agreed, but said the school would arrange for student transportation to the games much like they do for football games at the Rose Bowl.

"Hopefully we can turn it into a road show for a year to whatever venue we're going to be playing in," he said. "But for the long-term health of the program and [Pauley Pavilion], this is great. It was much needed so, there will be some difficulties, but ultimately it will be great once it's done."

Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com.