What Is the Best Big Ten Basketball Arena?

Paul Swaney@@PaulSwaneySenior Analyst IMarch 11, 2010

Article originally published on www.stadiumjourney.com

In the winter of 2009, I traveled to each Big Ten basketball arena in the span of one month.

In many ways, this trip became the inspiration for Stadium Journey.

Trips like this are not only a fantastic way to become more involved in the world of sports, it’s also a great way to see the country.

From this trip, I have several venues that I know I will return to (Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) because they are so special.

There are others that I feel I need to give a second chance (Illinois and Purdue).

And there are still others that I doubt I’ll return to again (Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State).

Finally there are those venues that were surprisingly better than what I had expected (Iowa and Northwestern).

All games that I saw were Big Ten conference games occurring in January or February, 2009.

Without further ado, here is the official Stadium Journey Big Ten basketball arena rankings from worst to first:

11. Assembly Hall, Illinois

FANFARE Score: 14 (out of 35)

What we liked:  The Neighborhood—Jupiter’s was definitely my favorite place on the trip. Good beer, amazing pizza, and plenty of pool tables.

What we didn’t like:  The Access—It took us 37 minutes to get from our seat to the door. Thirty-seven minutes for a game that lasted less than two hours. And the narrow concourses with the drab concrete did not help matters.

10. Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State

FANFARE Score: 18

What we liked:  The Access—One piece of good news is that Bryce Jordan is located near Beaver Stadium, meaning that parking is both plentiful and free.  Free parking next to the stadium is always a good thing.  Additionally, getting in and out is a breeze since games don’t tend to be highly attended.

What we didn’t like:  The Fans—I found the fan experience to be highly disappointing.  Not only are the students not in a position where they could be a factor in the outcome of games, but the alumni and other fans are hardly noticeable. 

Like I said, this is clearly football country, and basketball is just a distraction until the fall.

9. Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center, Ohio State

FANFARE Score: 20.5

What we liked:  The Neighborhood—The immediate neighborhood surrounding Value City Arena provides plenty of choices within a half-mile for food and drinks.

What we didn’t like:  Return on Investment—Ohio State has the most expensive tickets in the Big Ten, both for basketball and football.  What you get for your money is a big generic experience.  The price isn’t going to break the bank, but unless it’s a big time game, then you’re probably paying too much.

8. Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern

FANFARE Score: 21

What we liked:  The first thing you need to know about Welsh-Ryan Arena is that it is not an arena. It’s a gym. I hope you understand that this distinction is a very good thing.

What we didn’t like:  Food and Beverage—Make sure you get something before you come to Welsh-Ryan as there really isn’t anything available besides snacks and soda.

7. Crisler Arena, Michigan

FANFARE Score: 22

What we liked:  The Neighborhood—This is where the experience really shines.  There are great bars and restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor.  The bad news is it’s a bit of a hike from Crisler, but once you make it you can settle in for a good time.

What we didn’t like:  The Fans—The student section, known as the “Maize Rage,” still has some work to do.  They are positioned nicely down on the floor, but they need to find a way to sustain their energy throughout the game, and be as intimidating with lesser opponents as they are with rivals like Michigan State and Ohio State. 

They should be aided by a great pep band, and one of the best fight songs in sports.

6. Mackey Arena, Purdue

FANFARE Score: 22

What we liked:  Return on Investment—With great sightlines throughout, and reasonable prices, a trip to Mackey is well worth the investment.  Parking is free and prices at neighborhood restaurants and bars are a good value. The team has been in or near the top 10 in the country for the past few years, all the more reason to go to a game now.

What we didn’t like:  Food & Beverage—Not much here, and certainly not anything to write home about.  Hot dogs, etc. can be found, and Coca-Cola products are offered.  I did appreciate that they had souvenir cups available, always an easy way to take home a keepsake.

5. Carver Hawkeye Arena, Iowa

FANFARE Score: 23

What we liked:  The Atmosphere—The court is dug into the ground with 42 rows rising from courtside. The other unique feature of Carver Hawkeye is that there is no center-court scoreboard. Instead, there are large scoreboards at each end. The result is a feeling of openness that is not found at any other Big Ten arena. It feels simple, and it feels right.

What we didn’t like:  Food & Beverage—I didn’t find anything unique inside Carver Hawkeye.  I did appreciate that I was able to bring home a souvenir cup.  I had some pizza and some popcorn—nothing to write home about.

4. Williams Arena (a.k.a. “The Barn”), Minnesota

FANFARE Score: 25

What we liked:  The Neighborhood—My last stop was the Kitty Cat Klub . A comfortable bar which is supposed to have an interesting music scene (I was there too early to verify it personally). I asked bartenders Tom and Ricky to invent a drink called the Golden Gopher in honor of the trip, and they delivered.

What we didn’t like:  Food & Beverage—The food available at Williams Arena is better than most, but not anything that is going to blow you away.  Traditional favorites like soft pretzels, nachos, and hot dogs can be found.  Concession stands also include offerings from familiar brands Subway and Papa John’s.

3. Breslin Center, Michigan State

FANFARE Score: 25

What we liked:  The Fans—The wind was blowing pretty good, but since it was still early, I decided to take a lap around the facility. Even though it was cold, I was glad that I did.

I ran into the statue of Magic Johnson on the other side of the building, and ended up at the gate for the student entrance. I was impressed with the crowd waiting to get in.

These people were already into it—and we were still almost two hours from tip off. It was a very impressive group of students.

What we didn’t like:  Return on Investment—As with most college basketball experiences, the price is well worth the cost to see a game.  I was disappointed that there weren’t more souvenir shops with anything worth buying though.

2. Assembly Hall, Indiana

FANFARE Score: 27

What we liked:  The Atmosphere—There is no doubt that Assembly Hall is just one of those magical venues that you need to see if you’re a true college basketball fan.  The 17,456-seat arena regularly sells out, but the great thing is that it is a very large arena that still feels small.

What we didn’t like:  The Neighborhood—Immediately surrounding the arena there isn’t much of a presence of bars or restaurants, but less than a mile away you can find a few options.

1. Kohl Center, Wisconsin

FANFARE Score: 30

What we liked:  Return on Investment—A trip to Madison for a Wisconsin basketball game (or hockey for that matter) is well worth the trip.  I paid $20 for my seat about 12 rows up in the student section.  You’ll enjoy the neighborhood, the facility, the energy of the fans, and certainly the cheese curds.

What we didn’t like:  Not much. The Kohl Center has the complete package, and is the must-see venue of the Big Ten basketball world!

Paul Swaney is the Co-Founder of Stadium Journey .


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