This piece is much less of an analysis of the current state of college basketball and more of a rant. In recent years, in an attempt to get more recruits and increase revenues, many basketball programs across the country have upgraded or moved their facilities to much larger venues. This movement has left some of the old, traditional stadiums in the dust. Unfortunately, this is killing the heart and soul of the sport.
Take Penn State for example. Penn State used to play basketball in Rec Hall, a very traditional college basketball stadium. The ceiling is low to the ground and the stands are right over the court. For any game, you could guarantee it was packed and loud. Rec Hall may have only sat around 5,000 people a game, but it was hard to play in. It was an opposing players worst nightmare. If anyone attended the Return to Rec game this year against Princeton, you could attest to that. It may have been the loudest game Penn State Basketball has played in years. In arenas like this, you can feel the history in it as soon as you walk through the doors.However, Penn State, like many other schools moved to a giant, soulless arena in the Bryce Jordan Center.
Don’t take me the wrong way, the Bryce Jordan Center is a nice facility. It does well hosting concerts and THON, but it has no soul. It is almost always empty and most games it is so quiet you can hear Coach Chambers yelling at his players down the court. Yes, some of this has to do with the lack of basketball culture at Penn State. I won’t dispute that, but the basketball team would be much different walking out of the locker room into a packed gymnasium, rather than an empty BJC.
There is a reason many teams won’t schedule away games against certain teams. There are bad teams that will always have success at home because of the place they play. Look at the case of University of New Mexico or Utah State. Both stadiums hold between 10-15 thousand fans, but they are impossible to play in. They are loud, raucous, and unforgiving. New Mexico has won 80 percent of the games they have played in “The Pit.”
The stadium is almost always sold out. Utah State once won 34 games in a row in the Smith Spectrum. They have one of the best records at home since the stadiums inception.
On top of the home court advantage, old time arenas have such history behind them. One of the most historic stadiums in all of sports, (and one of my favorites), is the Palestra, home of the University of Pennsylvania basketball teams. It was finished in 1927 and has played host to the most NCAA basketball games of any other stadium in the country. It is also the home to the Big 5, which is one of the oldest rivalries in college sports. It is the most beautiful stadium in all of college basketball. Walking into the stadium is like no other feeling you can have. In reality, it really is ugly. It was one of the first concrete and steel stadiums in the country. The walls are a bleak, gray, and stained. Most of the windows on the outside are broken. Its in a very questionable part of the city. But then you walk to your seat and you look down on the court. The sun shines through the ceiling right onto center court. The stands are sloped right on top of the court. The architecture of the beams that comprise the roof over the court is stunning. You sit in your seat and you realize you are sitting in the cathedral of college basketball. The Palestra may be one of the most important buildings in getting college basketball to where it is today. As Saint Joesph’s basketball coach Phil Martelli said “The Palestra is unique because it’s the only empty building in America that you can go in to and there’s sound.”
College basketball needs to go back to this. Instead of going for the money of playing in a giant arena that you can sell out once a year, play in small arenas that you are guaranteed to sell out. Play in arenas that amplify your crowd’s noise so much that you can’t hear yourself think. Play in stadiums where other players are afraid to play in. The soul of college basketball is found in these stadiums, let’s bring them back.
I also have to recap my games of the week. Syracuse beat Duke in an overtime thriller 91 – 89. Iowa State beat Oklahoma State in three overtimes 97 – 96. My other game of the week did not go to overtime, but it was an upset, as Ohio State beat the ranked Iowa team.
My games of the week for this week are:
Saturday, February 8:
Carver- Hawkeye Arena is one of the toughest places to play and the Hawkeyes are coming off of a tough loss to a crumbling Ohio State team. They need this win to help solidify a first round bye in Indianapolis in the first week of March. Michigan needs this win to stay close with in-state rival Michigan State for first place in the Big Ten.
Tuesday, February 11:
This is the best Texas team in about three years and they are coming off of a humongous home win against Big 12 leader Kansas. They are currently on a seven game winning streak in the Big 12 after starting 0-2. It’s going to be hard to beat the Longhorns in Austin. Oklahoma State needs the win to stop the bleeding of their three game losing streak. It’s a bad time to be losing, so hopefully they can pull themselves together before March.
Wednesday, February 12:
Syracuse is currently the number one team in the country and are one of the two remaining unbeaten teams. These once Big East rivals are reunited in the ACC and are fighting for the top of the standings in the ACC. Pitt has won three of there last six, so this game is a must win for the Panthers. Last month, Pitt gave Syracuse on of their closest games all seasons in the Carrier Dome. This month, they face them in the Zoo. Get ready for a defensive showcase.