Today, Huff Hall's the place to be

Today, Huff Hall's the place to be

CHAMPAIGN — The excuse notes have been written. The pleas have been issued to students and the public. The preparations have been made with regards to parking and the on-campus traffic of cars and bodies midday on a Friday.

Now, it's time to see how the Illinois volleyball team's strange 11 a.m. weekday start time for its Sweet 16 match against Marquette works out.

"Ticket sales are still doing really well," Illinois Associate Athletic Director Holly Stalcup said on Thursday. "I think coach and the team and a lot of marketing has really pushed, 'Take a long lunch,' 'Get an excuse note.'

"I think our community is really behind this team and behind hosting this event. Even though it might be an 11 a.m., you should expect a great crowd still."

The unique start time won't go unnoticed on campus. The College of Applied Health Sciences will move some of its classes to other venues to accommodate postmatch press conferences and other needs, and parking spots will be occupied by various personnel, including a large ESPN TV truck that will broadcast the game.

While it provides certain challenges, ESPN producer Trevor Towle sees the tournament's opening time slot in a positive light.

"That's kind of nice to be the site to kick all of the coverage off and get everyone excited for volleyball," he said.

The location of the iconic arena on Fourth and Gregory streets adds to the headaches, including parking.

The age of Huff Hall also makes certain things difficult, like setting up cables for the ESPN crew. But the TV sight lines are great, according to ESPN director Jim Roller, and the arena itself is a boon to ESPN, which will air the game on ESPNU.

"Some of the bigger gyms that do college basketball and bigger events, it almost feels too big, and there are a lot of empty seats," Towle said. "You're not going to have any empty seats in here, it's going to be loud and crazy. ... It kind of reminds me of an old-school gym. It's really got a nice feeling to it, the acoustics are good.

"I've done both sides, and I honestly prefer a smaller gym where you don't see a lot of empty seats and you feel like there's a good vibe in the building."

That sentiment is shared by Janine Oman, Ohio State's deputy athletic director who is also a representative from the NCAA women's volleyball committee. Old arenas like Huff Hall are a dying breed, after all.

"I just think you're at a place that appreciates volleyball, so it'll be fun," Oman said. "I think for the teams that are here, it provides them a really good experience. ... The crowd is kind of right on top of them here."

While it may be a suitable regional site, don't expect Huff Hall or Illinois to host a Final Four any time soon. It doesn't come close to meeting the capacity requirement, among other stipulations.

But for a few hours today and Saturday, Champaign will be the center of the college volleyball world. The Wisconsin and Illinois bands will fill the arena with sound, as will the members of the student section — if they can get out of class, that is.

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