Notre Dame Stadium project helps Irish women's basketball team, too

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- On Friday, Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Muffet McGraw had her team practicing on the Purcell Pavilion court, where the Irish play their home games. An hour into the practice, and the team had to pack up, snake its way around the concourse, and go downstairs to the auxiliary-practice facility known as the Pit.

When Notre Dame’s Rolfs Sports Recreation Center is converted to a basketball practice facility, the Irish won’t have to play the practice court shuffle game anymore.

Notre Dame announced a $400 million Notre Dame Stadium expansion/renovation project Wednesday that will directly impact the Irish men’s and women’s basketball teams. The 750,000-square-foot project at ND Stadium adds premium seating to the football stadium and classroom space. It will also include new a student life building that will allow the student rec activities to be moved out of Rolfs. The project is expected to take 33 months, and a start date has not been announced.

Ideally, McGraw and the Irish would have every practice at Purcell on the court they play their games on. But the Purcell court is in high demand, especially in the offseason.

“The NCAA allows us to practice in the summer, now, but volleyball season, the shows, the summer camps … the summer is a bigger problem for us,” McGraw said. “We practiced at St. Joe High School three times this summer, because we couldn’t get the arena.

“During the season, if the men have a game, and we want to practice, we have to go to the Pit. We felt the crunch more this season than ever. The (Atlantic Coast Conference) volleyball season goes longer into November. That took time away from us. There were a lot of days, the men and women were backed up in the pit. Whenever we can get time in the arena, we will, but we’ve had to leave the arena so the men’s opponent can have a shoot-around.”

When the Rolfs is converted to a world-class basketball practice facility, Notre Dame’s basketball program will be on a par with other major Division I programs.

“It’s something that we’ve really needed,” said McGraw, who guided the Irish to the national title in 2001 and has this season’s Irish ranked No. 2 and 19-0. “It’s going to make us better. It’s going to be the biggest practice facility in the nation.

“It’s a tremendous facility, and it’s going to be great for recruiting. That’s what kids want. They want a shiny, new practice facility and a place they can work on their game, and we’re going to have it.”

Bret McCormick, of All-Star Girls Report, said that prospects take practice facilities into consideration, but it’s not necessarily going to be a difference-maker.

“Facilities are important, but a kid isn’t going to turn down a Connecticut and a Notre Dame because they don’t have practice facilities,” McCormick said. “It matters to the high school kids when they consider colleges.

“I think it helps recruiting, and it’s important, but I don’t think will keep anybody from going to Notre Dame. But facilities are very important, and it will only help Notre Dame.”

McCormick said that where facilities can have some impact in a recruit’s decision is if Connecticut has a state-of-the-art practice facility, and Notre Dame doesn’t. Connecticut is expected to have a new basketball practice facility, estimated at $40 million, completed in May.

“When you’re the upper-echelon teams like Connecticut and Notre Dame, I don’t think any kid isn’t going to go to your school because you don’t have an unbelievable practice facility.

“It is important, and they like it, but Auburn has a great practice facility and Notre Dame doesn’t. If comes down to Auburn and Notre Dame, a kid is probably not going to pick Auburn just because Notre Dame doesn’t have a practice facility. But Connecticut is getting a new facility, and Notre Dame doesn’t have one, then it helps Connecticut.”

McGraw said that the proposed basketball practice facility is necessary for the Irish to remain a powerhouse. The Hall-of-Fame coach has led Notre Dame to three consecutive Final Four appearances, but she is always asked by recruits about a practice facility.

“You really have to have a practice facility nowadays,” McGraw said. “We’re really way behind. We might be the only school in the country that doesn’t have one. The small schools have them. We went down to New Orleans (for the Final Four), and went to Tulane, and they had a beautiful practice facility. We are definitely the only team in the Top 50 that doesn’t have one.”

McGraw said that recruits want a facility where they can work on their game and enhance their performance. That ranges from court availability, to a state-of-the-art weight room, a fitness center and to a film room.

“I hope it’s completely up to the minute,” McGraw said of the Irish basketball practice facility. “We’ve looked at so many of them. Now, it’s a chance to take the best of everybody we’ve seen and build it. I just want to have a separate facility from the men. I don’t want a sliding door in the middle. I want it to be soundproof, so we can both practice at the same time.”

Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw embraces the campus changes that will bring her program a new practice facility. (AP photo)