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Szuba: What it’s like covering Syracuse basketball inside the Carrier Dome in 2020

In a year of sea change, Syracuse basketball is expectedly different in 2020.

NCAA Basketball: Niagara at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

First, let me start by making something abundantly clear: I have no idea whether or not fans or even a small contingent of family members should be allowed to attend sporting events in New York State, so please do not take this as a lobbying attempt at doing so. Also, Marty Byrnes deserved the MVP of the 1977 Carrier Classic over Magic Johnson.

Now that we’ve established that, the point of this piece is to give insight on how Syracuse Orange men’s basketball games are felt from the inside following the new renovations. If this comes across as a braggadocios piece where I sound like a giant blowhard despite being an unaccomplished putz, you’d be entirely correct but consider this:

1) A lot of this just stems from my own insecurity and disbelief that they actually let me into the building in the first place

2) I’m from Syracuse and feel the need to overcompensate (people from CNY understand this)

With that said, let me come correct. It absolutely sucks not having you guys at the Carrier Dome and I look forward to the date where we can all be reunited under one new roof. There is without question a lack of atmosphere that can’t be replaced without fans. It’s a little eerie when, after a made three or dunk, all you can hear is the cavernous dome reverberate with the echo of the PA announcer and then… crickets.

Despite all the new bells and whistles, it’s just not the same.

Let’s start this from the top though. In normal times, there’s usually some sort of traffic on I-81 leading up to Syracuse basketball games. For Thursday’s game against Niagara and Saturday’s against Rider, it was unfettered driving all the way down 81 South to the dome, which felt odd even for non-conference games but of course makes sense.

From there, everyone enters through Gate A this year where the usual protocols are in place and temperature checks are taken at the door. I tried to sneak in a microphone to plant under Jim Boeheim’s chair, but after multiple failed attempts through the metal detector, security confiscated my device.

Only kidding.

Every game starts the same. Usually I’ll get a text from friends, some family and people I’ve had casual conversations at the bar that all read like, “You’re at the game!?” Yes, I couldn’t believe they let me in either. Now if you’ll allow it, I’ll be firing off these tweets.

As expected, there are a plethora of changes this year like socially distanced benches. We’ll dive further into that in a bit. The way I see it, there are only three inherent advantages of not having fans inside the Dome from a media perspective. First of which is the WiFi, which no longer feels like you’re working on a dial-up connection. Things such as uploading videos and making sure your gamer gets published on time are worries of the past.

The second is new media seating, which is along the sideline this year with distance separating each mask-wearing media member. This is way better than in normal times when media seating is along the baseline behind multiple rows of people where you’re constantly trying to view the game through the window of two guys’ heads who have definitely had too many craft beers.

It’s now easier to watch the game and to pick up on details. For example, in Thursday’s game against Niagara, Woody Newton came out of a timeout rapping the lyrics to Da Baby’s “Suge” played on the new sound system. I have no idea whether that was a way to psych himself up or if he just likes the song, but either way that’s the the kind of anecdote that would’ve been missed with two bald heads in front of you. That’s also the kind of swagger and self-confidence you like to see out of a freshman.

What’s the third, you ask? We’ll revisit that in a minute.

Of course, in a year like this, the values of honesty, transparency and accountability have never been more important. That’s why you read a discerning publication like TNIAAM because we’re here to address the hard-hitting, capital-J “Journalism” questions such as what the men’s bathrooms look like. Well, finally we have that answer.

Dome Troughs

The troughs remain for now but they’re expected to be replaced in 2022. That makes you think the troughs won’t be getting much run for the remainder of their useful lives, but hopefully once they’re done, Adam Weitsman will be able to make good use of them.

If you’re asking me though (which you’re not), this is a sigh of relief. Nothing is more uncomfortable than when a man who’s old enough to be your grandfather has no qualms planting two feet right beside you, drops his drawers and tries to burn a hole through the back of the trough.

Reminder: even in normal times you should always abide by the one urinal buffer rule.

New lights and speakers inside the Carrier Dome

Artificial noise is pumped throughout the new sound system, which is an idea that needs to be fired into the sun immediately. It just sounds like muddled white noise which distracts from the real show, which brings us back to the third inherent advantage of not having fans: picking up on anything and everything Jim Boeheim is saying.

When Boeheim yells things such as “GOD DAMN IT!” or “GRAB THE BALL!” loud enough for everyone to hear it’s of immense entertainment value. Or, more accurately, entertaining for everyone who is not the subject of his ire.

Which gives us an idea.

Syracuse Athletics would never do this, but how many of us would cancel our ESPN+ membership and pay $5 per month to hear Boeheim say things that would make a billy goat puke?

The new sound and lighting system is solid during warmup music and player intros, by the by. The new speaker system sounds like someone just slapped a pair of Bose headphones over your ears for the first time after you’ve been using the generic iPod Nano headphones. You know the ones.

The new scoreboard is just as massive as it looks on TV and sits low atop the bleacher seating.

There are plenty of possibilities with the new lighting. In the embedded video above, an orange hue fills the arena during player intros but lights are not limited to just one color. During the National Anthem, the lights change to red, white and blue.

Given all of the health challenges in a year like this, I’m admittedly not sure whether it’s ethical or moral to be playing games and risking the health of college kids to play basketball. Truthfully, it is a bit of a balancing act sorting through feelings of guilt for being able to attend a game you’re not even sure should be taking place, but also feeling lucky enough to be there to witness in person.

Personal feelings aside, I hope this was insightful and brought you guys as close to the new dome experience as possible.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, despite the new roof that no longer relies on air pressure for support, a gust on wind pushed me out of Gate A upon exit. The more things change, the more they stay the same.