UConn basketball will not play games in Hartford for the first time in decades.
The school has confirmed all basketball and hockey games previously scheduled to be played at the XL Center, will be moved to the university’s Storrs campus.
“Our teams love competing in downtown Hartford but the conditions brought about by COVID-19 have made that impractical,” said Director of Athletics David Benedict.
Both men’s and women’s basketball will play at Gampel Pavillion. Hockey will play at Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum.
Students at UConn’s Hartford Campus are disappointed but said if they’re allowed to attend games, they’re willing to travel.
“All we can do is support them and watch,” said UConn student Jessica Zacharias. “I don’t mind taking the commute to Storrs to watch some of the games.”
Earlier this year UConn announced the cancellation of its football season. That created a void at East Hartford’s Rentschler Field. Thursday's news leaves another hole in the Hartford sports landscape.
“I don’t think it’s a particularly surprising decision,” said Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. “It’s an indoor arena and indoor environment.”
With the decision, the XL Center will continue to be closed with no new events scheduled for the foreseeable future.
“Even though Phase 3 allows 50%, there are still indoor caps on total attendance which is far below the levels necessary to make an event economical,” said Mike Freimuth, executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority.
Freimuth also said it is unclear if the AHL will operate the Wolfpack in the XL Center this year. All other events have been postponed to at least late spring or early summer.
With the arena being dormant, Bronin said it’s a good time to renovate.
“To me the path is clear and it’s time to move forward and we should use this opportunity, while the facility is largely dark, to get as much work done as possible,” said Bronin.
Not everyone agrees. Gil Fried leads the University of New Haven’s sports management program. He said the XL Center needs to be renovated but suggests it’s a risk doing so without contractual assurances the investment will attract new tenants or events.
“If we can’t get anybody to put money where their mouth is to move to Hartford and to pay to play in Hartford, then it’s not worth it for us to invest in,” said Fried.
Bronin though is adamant. He said the options for the building are to spend hundreds of millions tearing it down and prepping for new development, make a modest investment to become a competitive modern arena, or something less desirable.
“I guess the third option is, you let it deteriorate and become a rusting shell of concrete and steel in the middle of your capital city,” Bronin said.