Nebraska changing hoops home atmosphere

Few college hoops fans outside the dyed-in-the-wool Nebraska clan are probably familiar with the environment at the Huskers' home men's basketball games. I'm not, and I write about basketball just about every day.

Apparently, a game in the Devaney Center is far more like a modern NBA presentation than an old-school college hoops slugfest. There's canned music over the loudspeaker and frequent promotions and t-shirt tosses during timeouts, loud game intrusions that are perfect for regular-season NBA games -- when, let's face it, you might need a little extra oomph in the first few quarters -- but absolutely brutal in serious playoff tilts, when they sap all the gravitas and energy right out of the building. "Come on, get a stop guys! We need this! ... Hey, that bagel's racing that donut! Go donut!" (I'm looking at you, United Center.)

Nebraska wanted to rethink its in-game experience for fans, so here's a novel concept: They asked those fans what they thought. Turns out, the Huskers faithful wanted more of the pep band and less loudspeaker music. They wanted more of the cheerleaders and fight song and fewer promotions. Marc Boehm, NU executive associate athletic director, told the Omaha World-Herald that the athletics department had already begun thinking about such changes. The fan survey only sealed the deal:

“People like the band, we found out,” he said. “People like the spirit squad members. They want to see them more. And people want more song selection from the band. So we're going to limit the canned music. Not all of it, but we're going to focus on getting away from the NBA-type style and be more collegiate.”

Those changes dovetail with an overall modification concerning “flow of the game.” “It's something we recognized, and that echoed in the survey,” Boehm said.

Nebraska is also in the midst of other big-time programmatic changes. The Huskers want to schedule tougher nonconference games -- a bit of a challenge, given Nebraska's traditionally lackluster hoops profile -- and want to redesign the court to include a much larger "N" in the middle. That's only temporary, of course: In 2012-13, the Cornhuskers will move to a brand new, 16,000-seat arena that will serve as the center of a $344 million revitalization project in downtown Lincoln, Neb. (In case you're wondering, it looks like this. Pretty awesome.)

In the meantime, though, improving the current home atmosphere is a major plus. It's not hard to understand why NBA teams stuff so much extemporaneous nonsense into the arena atmosphere: They want to lure casual fans, parents with young children, and the like. But Nebraska fans showing up to basketball games are already die-hards. They don't need bells and whistles to enjoy the game. They expressed as much in a survey. The school is listening to them, even at the risk of creating issues with sponsors. Well done, NU. Well done indeed.

Now, if only all arenas, NBA- and otherwise, would do the same. Sigh. A guy can hope.