Before Knox County does something rash with the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, let's get over the anger at departing Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. honcho Gloria Ray and have some quick, but quiet, reflection.
We sometimes forget we have a national museum in Knoxville. It has been an afterthought semi-run by the KTSC and it has sometimes been treated as a local hired hall for weddings and other social events. It is the only national hall of fame dedicated exclusively to women's sports.
As is my usual practice, I asked some smart people for ideas.
Severing the ties between the Hall of Fame and KTSC can't be done too quickly. The Hall of Fame needs a full-strength committed and influential board. Dave Conklin, an avid women's basketball fan, has been doing yeoman's work keeping things afloat. He needs help.
What is sometimes forgotten is that the museum has a national board made up of 32 of the most powerful and influential people in women's sports—from the SEC, NCAA, and the WNBA. This is a resource that can be tapped beyond their participation in selecting the annual inductees. As I understand it, some of them are just waiting to be asked.
The men and women's athletics departments at the University of Tennessee have been merged. Someone needs to beg former women's director Joan Cronan to retire from UT and take over the full-time job of running the Hall of Fame and putting it on sound financial footing. Not only is she an experienced administrator with a passion for women's basketball, I suspect she has the phone numbers of those aforementioned 32 most powerful figures in women's sports. Not to mention a passionate donor base.
Cronan is certainly high on everyone's list to be a board member, at least of the new non-profit corporation that is being formed to run the Hall.
With a strong local board, more involvement from the national group, and the presence of an experienced leader, Knox County ought to have some confidence in the ongoing viability of the Hall of Fame. There is a fund containing about $4 million in donations. The county should consider selling the Hall of Fame for that price. (Put it up for bids, if you must, and see if anyone is willing to pay more than that. I doubt it.)
In addition to national fund-raising for the facility, some other things could be done to make ongoing costs viable. Perhaps part of the space could be contracted with a company for use as a sports-themed restaurant. It could feature women's basketball games, highlight films, and the like. It would be an ideal place for women's sports teams to have their banquets and celebrations. It is also handy to get down to Thompson-Boling Arena to watch some women's basketball after your meal.
A full-press marketing effort might also get the Hall as a stop on the hundreds of tour buses that come through Knoxville, mostly going to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The buses could throw in a Hall of Fame tour as a lunch stop.
As a non-profit corporation dedicated to women's sports, the Hall should also qualify for a nice revenue stream in grants and donations—something that hasn't been possible in the past.
With the museum on a track to reduce or eliminate any financial drain and no longer a distraction, then Knox County can turn its attention to what to do about the separate tourism and sports organization. The people you are mad at for overspending and cavalier use of the taxpayer's money are gone. What has been left behind is a highly competent staff, under the able direction of Kim Bumpas, which has been responsible for soliciting and managing major sporting events and tourism promotion for a long time. They have the contacts and the expertise that no other local or outside group has to stabilize the effort for the future.
It is up to the governing board going forward to examine expenses and salaries and to protect the taxpayer's interest.
And yes, I agree, it's about damn time.