Cal Poly alumnus Theo Dunn competed in Mott Gym when Cal Poly was an all-male school, and not much inside the gym has changed, he said.
The only improvements he’s seen in the compacted gym since 1955 are renewed floors, he said.
“It’s not only small, it’s antique,” Donn said.
The facility is just 6,500 square feet and holds 3,032 spectators. In the Big West Conference, only Cal State Northridge’s Matadome holds fewer fans.
Athletic director Don Oberhelman and his team in the athletic department are working to transform the former Mott Gym into Mott Athletics Center: a revamped gym to give players, fans and future athletes a facility worthy of Cal Poly’s loyal fans and talented athletes, he said.
All improvements will be funded by private donors through a capital campaign.
“We can’t let our programs backslide, and the way to ensure we still compete for championships, the way we stay competitive, is to keep our great coaches and continue to recruit great kids,” Oberhelman said. “The only thing that is lacking is a quality venue.”
During the next three to four years, the athletic department is hoping to rebrand the gym, tidy up the cluttered ceiling and incorporate updated technologies. One particular thing the gym does not have is a video scoreboard. In fact, Cal Poly is the only school in the conference without one, Oberhelman said.
While the history of Mott is important to embrace, the building hasn’t changed in 60 years, Oberhelman said. If the athletic department doesn’t make investments now, there is a gamble Cal Poly won’t be able to recruit high quality athletes, Oberhelman said.
“I’m looking for advantages in terms of recruiting,” Oberhelman said. “When you’re a visiting high school student, you love everything about the school’s environment, except the places you will play in.”
Oberhelman said Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong is behind the improvements, and Mott will undergo the modernization, but it will take a few seasons. Many other universities are doing the same as Cal Poly intends to do: updating and upgrading the facility to keep up with technology and seating.
“The caliber of competitions we have are top-notch, the students we have competing are top-notch,” Oberhelman said. “I just want to give our fans and players a better experience.”
So far this year, men’s and women’s basketball teams have boasted a combined 22-4 record at home.
“This tells me we’ve got a really good home-court advantage,” Oberhelman said. “Increasing our facilities will make that even better.”
Senior forward Kayla Griffin said the women’s basketball team has lost potential recruits to other teams in the conference with nicer facilities.
High school students who receive multiple offers might choose another university with a newer gym, locker room or better equipment. However, Mott’s retro feel isn’t necessarily as much of a disadvantage as it can be a motivator.
“I look at it like it’s not a bad thing,” Griffin said. “I feel like we are the underdogs, the blue-collar workers who have to work hard for everything they do.”
Junior foward Chris Eversley, who plays on the men’s basketball team, said while Mott doesn’t have shining lights and a video board, his team has made the gym its home.
The improvements would have the biggest impact on recruiting.
“One thing that coach tells us is that the facility doesn’t help you get better,” Eversley said. “He tells us to do our job so people can donate money and then we will see improvements in the facility.”
The gym has seen improvements this year by adding new courtside seats for fans, along with new baskets. These additions and all other improvements during the next three to four years are funded by a capital campaign lead by Cal Poly athletics. No finances will come from money allocated by the school.
The amount of renovation is dependent on how effective the department is at procuring funds, associate athletic director Ashley Offermann said. Private donors to Cal Poly athletics need to be confident that the projects they donate toward are in efforts to uphold the reputation of Cal Poly sports.
“People like to support winners,” he said. “It’s very difficult to raise money for losing programs. It’s the same in academics, it’s the same across the board. People like to associate with things that are looked at as successful.”
Still, Cal Poly’s appeals in academics, the campus’ friendly people and coaches can make up for what it lacks in facilities, at least for junior guard Jonae Ervin. Ervin said she hadn’t heard about Cal Poly before she got recruited, but the building she was going to be practicing in wasn’t her deciding factor.
“I didn’t look at the gym like it was bad,” she said. “As long as we had a gym, that’s fine.”
Editor’s note: The original version of this story misidentified Theo Dunn as “Theo Donn.”