Kaplan Arena renovations bolster national athletic image, improve reputation of College programs

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COURTESY IMAGE / THE FLAT HAT

One of the most surprising and entertaining spectacles in this academic year at the College of William and Mary so far has been the success of the men’s basketball team. The Tribe rests consistently at the top of the Colonial Athletic Association and has started a buzz around a potential March Madness run.

In an anticipated game, the Tribe fell to Hofstra Saturday, Feb. 1, bringing their record down to 16-8. Athletic Director Samantha Huge and College President Katherine Rowe stepped out onto the court at halftime, accompanied by virtually every freshman and first-year student athlete, to announce plans to holistically renovate Kaplan Arena from large individual donations.

Students can tell you firsthand that the last couple of years have seen an immense push to publicize and aggrandize the College’s athletic programs — or, at least, a few of them. Nevertheless, game attendees seemed slightly taken aback by the timing and scale of such an ambitious project.

The plan depicted an impossibly new-and-improved Kaplan, complete with new stadium seating, training facilities and a complete frontal face-lift.

Honestly, the “Game of Thrones”-esque hype-up video campaign from the recent football season should not be this hard of an act to follow.

There are concerns from students regarding this expensive and extensive renovation. Some question why the fully-functioning and already well-endowed Kaplan Arena should take renovative priority over older dorm rooms, academic buildings and other outdated campus hubs; others query if such vocal, comprehensive and financially-backed support for women’s athletics will ever materialize.

And, functionally, where will the basketball and volleyball teams play until fall 2022?  Will there only be away games for the next two seasons? Is the administration getting caught up in early excitement over the Tribe’s new-found fire? Is one decent run a valid enough reason to disrupt the flow of the entire program?

Unfortunately, this is the reality: the College has established itself as a primarily academic school and is consistently ranked as one of the best public universities in the country. Other schools such as the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have comparable academic standards and critical recognition; what separates them from us in the rankings is their athletic prowess. Though these schools are much greater in size, it is impossible to ignore the higher number of applicants such schools receive because of the draw of the athletics — both for those individuals playing sports and watching them. The lack of a substantial, successful athletic program is why the College continues to fall in national rankings.

While improving academic buildings and dorms is important, and arguably much needed, focusing on the bigger picture is essential if we want to maintain a reputation and improve as a higher education institution.

If the College wants to compete academically and athletically with bigger schools who boast greater endowments, the administration is doing the right thing by investing in big, spectator sports — and yes, however frustratingly, men’s sports.

Obviously, this school will not fix itself entirely in the coming few years — and rebuilding an athletic stadium seems to be an insensitive choice when a high number of students are worried about other resources, including living, dining and mental health. However, if the administration is attentive enough, reforming some parts of campus can lead to the rising of all boats and can reach more needs.

Renovations of this scale will always feel as though they are coming at an inopportune time; to those staunch opponents of a new Kaplan, wouldn’t it be nice to just get it out of the way?

College athletics are known for bringing people together. When there is a larger, outside draw to a wide array of people, both prospective students, nearby residents or alumni, it will become easier to highlight and focus on other programs and opportunities offered here at the College.

From student-circulated publications to service projects to entrepreneurial clubs to political activism, we know our school is great and more than just sports — and we have the power to make it even better. If we want others to see that too, we should strive to provide a range of accessible ways for others to engage in our small and special community — and Tribe Athletics might just prove to be the unifying factor.

Email Carina Pacheco at

capacheco@email.wm.edu.