April 29, 2013

TCU booster hopes renovated arena helps revitalize Frogs basketball

Ed and Rae Schollmaier have pledged $10 million towards a $40 million renovation plan for TCU’s 52 year old basketball facility.

Ed Schollmaier has attended TCU men’s basketball games regularly since 1970. He’s been sitting at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on the front row at the left corner of the baseline for years.

Not exactly prime seats when you envision a contemporary basketball arena.

But at the “DMC,” these pass for the best seats, even for someone such as Schollmaier, who along with his wife, Rae, has done more for TCU men’s and women’s basketball programs than any boosters in the school’s history.

So when a committee was formed to consider renovations to the 52-year-old facility in the winter of 2012, one of the first suggestions Schollmaier made to the architects was adding front-row, premium seating for fans.

A few years before, Schollmaier and a TCU group looking at possible renovation ideas visited the arena at Wichita State. It was designed by the same company that designed the DMC. Charles Koch Arena was renovated for $25 million in 2003 and added seats near the court.

“As I looked at our arena I thought, boy, we’d be able to do the same thing and it would be really, really great in terms of some premium-type seats if only the floor were three or four feet lower,” said Schollmaier, who had originally suggested the idea during renovation discussions six or seven years ago. Nobody seemed too interested back then.

But last winter, the same idea was met with excitement from architects and committee members. Ripping up the floor of the DMC no longer seemed impossible, perhaps, with visions of the renovated Amon G. Carter Stadium still fresh on everyone’s mind.

“You add premium seating and you add intensity to the experience by bringing the seats down to the floor,” Schollmaier said. “And with that concept, they started on the interior design.”

Ed and Rae Schollmaier pledged $10 million which jump-started TCU’s announcement two weeks ago that it was launching a $45 million fund-raising campaign to renovate the DMC.

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte hopes to secure the funds by November so that construction could start when the season concludes in March.

“He wants basketball to be successful at TCU, so I think this is a life commitment,” Del Conte said of Schollmaier. “He’s been talking about this for 50 years. He’s been the guy. Now this gift has put a lot of pressure on, because we need it to happen.”

Before the Schollmaiers pledged their gift, the plans were just a dream, Del Conte said when TCU announced the project on April 17.

“Now you’ve got to go figure it out,” Del Conte said. “It’s important to our TCU community.”

Schollmaier grew up in Cincinnati and loved basketball in high school. He watched Oscar Robertson become a star at his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati. Schollmaier was working on his business degree at Harvard when he became captivated with the Boston Celtics, who were about to win their first of 11 NBA championships in 13 years with Bill Russell.

“We didn’t have any money and I didn’t have much time, but one of my great pleasures was watching the Celtics on TV with Bill Russell, [Tommy] Heinsohn, Bob Cousy and all those guys. It was great fun to watch them.”

Schollmaier was hired by Alcon and moved to Fort Worth in 1961, the same year the DMC opened. By 1970, Schollmaier’s business travel had slowed down and he became a fixture at Horned Frogs’ basketball games. One of the founders of Alcon, Bill Conner, then the chairman of TCU’s board of trustees and Schollmaier’s boss at the time, volunteered Schollmaier to help stir up attendance at men’s basketball games in the early 1970s. A few high-ranking opponents, including Texas A&M, Texas and Arkansas, helped fill the venue with his help.

Schollmaier turns 80 later this year and has been retired since 1998. He and his wife are no strangers to elite philanthropy. They’ve donated around a $1 million annually to various causes for a decade through their charitable organization, the Schollmaier Foundation. He has remained a fixture at the DMC and has been a champion of renovations and improvements to the basketball facilities while most attention has been on the football program. He has already given the first of multiple payments to TCU.

“I just wanted to get the thing moving along,” he said. “My feeling was twofold. This was the time to do it when the coach [Trent Johnson] has a good recruiting class, we’re in the Big 12. We need to be more competitive than we were. Secondly, I’d like to get the thing done soon enough so I can enjoy it a little bit.”

“We just wanted to do something we believed in and give us some kick in life,” he said. “Being the basketball fan that I am and being the TCU fans that we are, and sort of approaching the end of life, we just thought this was something we could do to give us a kick and make a little splash. We didn’t have any difficulty making the decision at all. And we’re happy with it since we made it.”

That goes double for TCU’s two head coaches, the men’s Trent Johnson and the women’s Jeff Mittie. Both of them, along with Del Conte, showered the Schollmaiers with appreciation.

“I don’t think it can be overstated enough,” Johnson said. “It obviously speaks volumes about the Ed Schollmaiers of the world. It’s something I’ve never lost sight of. As coaches and players, we can’t be thankful enough. Having been around a little bit, [I know] it’s very rare. The Schollmaiers have been unbelievable in their commitment to wanting to see this thing done well. A lot of people will talk about it, but these guys are right behind it. Not just their willingness from a financial standpoint, but their hearts and their willingness to give has been very impressive to me.”

Both coaches agree with Schollmaier that from at least a basketball perspective, moving the seats closer to the court is going to be one of the most striking changes.

“Most people agree that this is a good place to watch a basketball game,” Mittie said. “But most people also agree the seats aren’t close enough and there’s some distance between, so it doesn’t make it as intimate as it could be. You can lose some noise and lose some excitement.

“I’m interested to see what we can do for our students. For me, the excitement starts with them. If we can get them to a closer place [to the court], where they’re more a part of it, I think that will have a huge impact. I think we’re going to see an entirely different look to this facility.”

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