ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — One of college basketball's most beloved arenas is changing names.
The Pit in New Mexico will now be called the WisePies Arena.
WisePies Pizza & Salad, a local restaurant chain, donated $5 million to the University of New Mexico to secure the naming rights for The Pit for the next 10 years. The chain's name and logo will appear on signs outside the arena, on the court and on tickets.
The donation is the largest cash gift ever given to the athletic department. The money will be used to pay off debt on the arena's $60 million renovation done in 2010.
"From the time we first discussed the potential renovation of The Pit, we talked about the need for state and private support to make the renovation a reality," athletic director Paul Krebs said.
The Pit has been one of college basketball's iconic buildings since opening in 1966, often categorized with Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, Kansas' Allen Fieldhouse and Pennsylvania's Palestra among arenas with the best atmosphere.
Its subterranean design sets the playing floor 37 feet below street level, helping make The Pit one of loudest and most difficult places to play in the country.
Lobos fans have always considered it a badge of honor that The Pit had kept its original name and not fallen into the line of naming-rights deals that have become so lucrative to universities.
Once the name change was announced on Monday, incredulous Lobos fans filled social media with a steady stream of profanities and disbelief.
Some Lobo fans said the name change amounted to disrespect for such a storied venue, while others said WisePies Arena would no longer hold the same kind of intimidation for visiting teams.
Athletic department spokesman Brad Hutchins said the criticism was expected but that the revenue from the naming rights is crucial.
"We certainly understand not everybody will like that, but we have a local company, a local New Mexican that helped us with this gift and we are proud to call it WisePies Arena aka The Pit," he said.
And since many fans have vowed to continue calling the arena The Pit, maybe little will change other than some signs.
In 2013, department officials said they were hoping a company or family would be willing to buy the naming rights for the arena for an amount ranging from $10 million to $15 million. They also acknowledged then the legacy The Pit name carries locally and nationwide.
The Pit played host to the 1983 Final Four and was the site selected for numerous regionals and first and second rounds over the decades for both men's and women's basketball.
Nearly 13 million fans have flocked to the arena over its lifetime, according to university statistics. The Lobos have averaged more than 15,400 fans over the past 48 years while playing in the arena.
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