Lauren Rabaino

Mott Gym is in need of a makeover.

Or at least that’s what key figures from the past and present of Cal Poly’s athletic department said. Some, in fact, want a new arena altogether.

“Ultimately it’s something that we need,” Cal Poly athletic director Alison Cone said.

How plausible would a new gym be?

“We probably could build a 6,000-seat facility,” Cal Poly men’s basketball coach Kevin Bromley said.

Indeed, the days for Mott Gym, which has been home to Cal Poly’s men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and wrestling teams since it was built in 1960, could be numbered. It is unclear, though, what the timetable might be for a new arena or where it would be constructed.

But both Cone and Bromley made it clear that the athletic department has been kicking around ideas for some time.

“Mott Gym is not a new facility and everybody realizes at some point that we will need a new arena, so certainly there’s been plenty of talk for the 14 years I’ve been here,” said Cone, who was promoted to athletic director in 2002.

There are conspicuous obstacles to getting such a project done, though, Cone said, foremost among them money. She said if something is done, it should incorporate the community’s needs.

“An arena’s a very expensive project,” she said. “Right now we haven’t had the ability to make something like that work on paper. It’s something we’re still looking at. I do think an arena could be a multi-use arena for the community.”

Bromley echoed those thoughts, saying “there is space on our campus for that.”

“I’ve heard there is a master plan for it,” he said of a new arena. “It’s about somehow getting the money to get that done.”

Come a long way

When Bromley first arrived at Cal Poly as an assistant coach in 1995, his first glance at Mott Gym wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring.

In those days, even though they were in their first year as a Division I program, the Mustangs had to play in a gym with wooden bleachers and there were no seats behind the baskets.

“When I got there, the doors were covered at the entire north and south end,” Bromley said. “There was dark paper (over the doors), and as the sun went up and down, it would put a glare on the floor. (The floor) was old and cracked. Sometimes the sun got through and sometimes it didn’t.”

What about the bleachers?

“Those things were rusty, old, there was dust all over the place,” Bromley said. “Very unattractive. There were wooden backboards on all the (practice) baskets. Kind of a lot of dirt and mold. It was just nasty. It was just really nasty.”

Those problems were addressed by John McCutcheon, Cone’s predecessor, who served as Cal Poly’s athletic director from 1991 to 2002. He led the effort to install the modern chairback seats in 1998, a configuration that’s still in Mott Gym today.

“I think just putting in the chair seats No. 1 was a big step,” said McCutcheon, who is now the athletic director at Massachusetts. “It made it more fan-friendly. It created an atmosphere around the court.”

Nowadays, those chairback seats even have season ticket holders’ names engraved in tiny metal tags.

“That was a nice adjustment,” Bromley said.

Bromley is also pleased with the “new technologies” throughout the gym, including the “floating floor” that he said “gives more spring and bounce,” absorbs shocks and makes injuries less likely to occur.

That floor was installed just this past summer.

“It’s a nice new floor and flooring system,” Cone said. “It will be good for shins and ankles and all the other things. It looks better, (but) it wasn’t done for looks. The other floor had worn through. . It needed to happen. Certain places of the old floor had collapsed and we were told they couldn’t sand it down.”

It’s an ongoing effort to maintain the modern, mid-major feel within Mott Gym. And it’s one whose incomprehensible number of hours spent planning and working on has not been lost on McCutcheon.

“It was really something to be there the time it went from Division II to Division I,” he said. “It shows the great potential for Cal Poly programs to go further. The sky is the limit for them.”

A long way to go

Although Bromley is pleased with Mott Gym’s progress, he said “we’ve got a long way to go” when it comes to improvements in and around the facility.

“Mott Gym, aesthetically, the roof doesn’t look real pleasing,” Bromley said, referring to the faded red covering of the gym. “You look at the ends and there’s a swallow’s nest up there; it still says ‘physical education’ up there. We need to do something with the foyer, which we’re still doing.”

The most noticeable recent upgrades to the foyer are the laminated photographs on the walls featuring members of the Cal Poly Athletics Hall of Fame.

Down the hall, Bromley feels the weight room, which is shared by all four teams that compete in Mott Gym, could be improved.

“When we got there (in 1995), we didn’t have a weight room,” Bromley said. “Is it state of the art? No, but it’s a heck of a lot better than it was. The training room still has a way to go (from) X-ray machines to physical therapy. There needs to be some improvement there. Do we have the space for that? I’m not sure we do, to be honest with you.”

Bromley likes what the school has done with the suite high above the court in which VIP types and prominent boosters can watch. He’s also pleased with the Academic Learning Center within Mott Gym, in which athletes can access computers and meet with academic coordinators.

In those halls, though, Bromley would prefer to see more school colors and less plain, white walls.

“I would like to see more of our colors,” he said. “It needs to be green and gold. Something that shows. . When we bring recruits in, it needs to show we have athletic excellence.”

Ernie Wheeler, who was coach of the men’s basketball team in its Division II glory days of the 1980s, said the school might have been better off if it had built a new gym instead of installing the Cal Poly Rec Center in its current location in 1994.

“I think the problem they’re faced with,” Wheeler said, “is when they built the Rec Center;what they should have done is put a 4,000- or 5,000-seat arena there.”

Wheeler, though, said it might be a stretch for Cal Poly to go to a facility that seats in the tens of thousands, and that he feels the athletic department has done a superlative job.

“In the Big West,” Wheeler said, “if you have a facility that can seat 4,000 or 5,000 people, that’s not a bad size. We look at arenas and see 15,000 people, but in this area, there are just not that many people.”

Bromley knows everything can’t be done at the same instant, and is appreciative of the many strides already made.

“We’ve done so much in a short period of time,” he said. “You think about what we’ve done in 10 years, it’s pretty phenomenal.”

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