The top basketball game in the history of the McCarthey Athletic Center will happen this season when the North Carolina Tar Heels pack their bags and head more than 2,500 miles west to play the Zags in Spokane.
There is just one teensy problem: The game is scheduled for Dec. 18 – or four days after on-campus residence halls will be closed for Christmas break.
All students received an email last week detailing the plans for Christmas break, including the scheduled closing dates of all residence halls outside of Corkery, Kennedy and Burch – the three upperclassmen-only apartments.
History has not been kind to the student body participation rate during Christmas break, even forcing former Gonzaga star Dan Dickau to blast the local residents a couple of years ago for how quiet the Kennel can be when the students are not shaking the building.
The Bulldogs have been successful during the McCarthey Athletic Center era with or without students, winning 207 of a possible 222 games since it opened in 2004. But the students help make the building a fortress that presents challenges to opposing teams.
No game of this quality has occurred in Spokane, let alone during Christmas break, so history may not come into play.
Kennel Club President Matt Cranston said via email to expect the Kennel Club to be as raucous as always, even with the scheduling conflicts.
“I am optimistic that the student body will come together and that the upperclassmen will host the underclassmen in their rented houses for this,” Cranston said. “I don’t expect this decision to have an impact on the size of the Kennel come Dec. 18. We will be full and rowdier than ever. This is the biggest game to ever come to Spokane and the student body knows it.”
It is unclear how successful juniors and seniors will be at giving freshmen and sophomores homes for four days, but Cranston sounds optimistic.
The other option presented to students in the GU email was in the form of discounted hotel rooms for the few extra days they would need to stay in Spokane.
Director for Residence Life Jon Wheeler said he isn’t sure who came up with that option, but that it was the best option for students who want to stick around.
Wheeler said they would have kept the residence halls open if possible, but logistically it wasn’t feasible.
“We need staff in the buildings, and by staff, I mean, full-time and student staff resident assistants,” he said. “For most of our (staff), they’re students. And so, you know, that kind of extension into their break is beyond what we would be prepared to do. And so, since we don’t have that kind of coverage, that’s the primary driver behind the decision.”
Without the appropriate people to respond to problems or emergencies, it also created a liability issue on top of an expanded budget.
Wheeler pointed to the Saint Mary’s game two seasons ago – arguably the biggest game to happen in the Kennel to that point – when the residence halls were opened two days early to accommodate students who wanted to return early as an outlier, but as one that made logistical sense.
“Our student staff come in much earlier in order to do training, and so they were actually on site when that game, when those games happen,” he said.
The athletic department was the primary reason for the change in schedule, as athletic director Mike Roth asked the administration to accommodate the students for the game against the Gaels.
But this time, Kennel Club was the only body to advocate for the change, even personally requesting for the extra four days on behalf of the underclassmen.
“By the time I was back on campus this August for the start of school, the decision had already been made,” Cranston said. “No Kennel Club representative was involved in this decision or even contacted for input. When we learned of the decision, we tried to advocate for underclassmen, but at that point the decision was already finalized.”
According to Wheeler, the department checked with the administration, including President Thayne McCulloh and the vice presidents.
“(We) shared with them our challenges with remaining open and advocated for not remaining open, and they considered the request and agreed with us that it would not be possible for us to remain open,” Wheeler said.
Without the help of school administrators, at least 2,000 GU students will be displaced for Christmas break before the game against the Tar Heels.
For students who miss the opportunity to catch the Zags against UNC in person, the game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 6 p.m.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Follow along with the Zags
Subscribe to our Gonzaga Basketball newsletter to stay up with the latest news.