After the Arena
by Mike Van Denend
After the dust settled, the official count was 11,442. Calvin had set the NCAA Division III national basketball attendance record by moving its home game against Hope College to the new Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids. Not only was the game the hottest ticket in town, it was also broadcast throughout West Michigan on the local ABC television affiliate, TV-13. And to top it all off, the creative computer services staff broke new web technology ground by sending the game across the internet. Calvin's system registered over 88,000 hits during and around game time.
Don Boender, Calvin's director of conferences and campus events, said, "The response from Calvin fans and alumni was incredible. We could have sold 15,000 tickets if they were available." Was all the effort worth it? Should Calvin have played the game away from the fieldhouse? While many alumni and friends of the college resoundingly supported Calvin's bold move, the college paid a price for the Van Andel game.
First of course, there was the final score: Hope 70, Calvin 56. Perhaps Hope wins the game regardless of the venue --- the Flying Dutch are an impressive team anywhere they play --- but certainly "home court advantage" for the Knights is much more prominent on Calvin's campus than in the downtown arena. The college asked much from Coach Vande Streek and the men's team. The Knights had to give up the familiar Knollcrest floor for the game they most wanted to win. Due to Van Andel Arena contracts, many prime seats were not under Calvin's control to sell; thus, the ear-splitting noise of courtside students rallying the team wasn't possible, despite the large numbers of ticket holders. You won't see Hope moving its home game out of the cozy Holland Civic Center --- ever.
Then, there was the women's team. Calvin's women are 18-2 as of this writing, nationally ranked and leading the MIAA with an 8-1 mark. They wound playing the same evening as the Van Andel game, at Hope, in front of 200 or so people (and came away with a solid win). The women were left out of the publicity equation. It is difficult to say if the women could have ever played in the arena, since Hope would have had to switch venues for the game. Regardless, the entire experience contributed to the perception of some that only men's sports get recognition.
And what about the Calvin student body? Although the usual amount of tickets were set aside for students, naturally the build-up prior to the game brought out more interest, and some students were turned away from the ticket booth. In addition, as stated earlier, their seats weren't as courtside as usual.
When people ask me about Calvin's next foray into the arena, my reply is that I'd be surprised if the Knights are hosting Hope downtown next year, and I'd also be surprised if Calvin never again hosts Hope at Van Andel.
It was a grand experiment, a brave and wonderful adventure that again shows Calvin College to be a place where smart and caring Christian people are willing to risk criticism for higher goals.
That's also why Calvin is home to The January Series, The Multicultural Year, the distance learning classroom, the nature preserve, The Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship, "The Loft," Howard Van Till, the Service-Learning Center and Chimes.
There's nothing safe about working out Calvin's mission and purpose, even when deciding where to play a basketball game.