Home of the Preseason No. 7 Kansas University Jayhawks
Our tour has left the East Coast and arrived in Kansas’s Great Plains, as we look at Allen Fieldhouse on Kansas University’s campus. Proponents of Allen Fieldhouse rank it above Cameron Indoor Stadium as the top place in the country to watch college basketball and, with its stellar tradition of success, link to the invention of basketball and large seating capacity, that claim has some credence.
Kansas Jayhawk Basketball is an American institution dating back to the 19th Century. Dr. James Naismith, the man credited with inventing the game of basketball, started the KU basketball program when he arrived on campus back in 1898. Naismith would stay in Lawrence for the next forty years and ironically is the only coach in Kansas history with a losing record. Although, national championships won in 1922, ’23, and ’52 led to the construction of what was originally a 17,000-seat, multi-purpose arena for KU athletics. Allen Fieldhouse is named after longtime coach Dr. Forrest Clare “Phog” Allen who coached the Jayhawks between 1919–1956 and a statue of his likeness now stands outside the East entrance.
Allen Fieldhouse is a very simple, barn-like building formed by repeating steel framing elements and a limestone exterior. Construction began in 1952 but was halted by steel shortages following World War II and the Korean War. Rooms were allocated to weapons storage in a revised plan and construction proceeded under the guise that this was an Armory building. Opening in March 1955, in addition to storing weapons and ammunition, the building housed both men’s and women’s basketball as well as volleyball, indoor track and serving as practice facility for football and softball teams; it is now a basketball-only arena.
Like Cameron Indoor, windows at either end of the Fieldhouse light its interior and provided much needed ventilation before the days of air conditioning. 17,000 fans squeezed in when it was first built but 1980’s fire code restrictions reduced the seating capacity. Steeply-raked bleachers create a very intimate, efficient 16,300-seat arena – a surprising comparison with the new, multi-tiered, $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn reveals that its capacity is just over 1,000 more seats. However, unlike the Nets’ new home, there are no luxury suites or VIP areas in Allen Fieldhouse – the hierarchy distinguishing the haves from have-nots is represented by seats with or without backs.
The Jayhawks are the second-most successful college team in the country (behind Kentucky) and have a remarkable .865 winning percentage at Allen Fieldhouse since its opening, and under current Coach Bill Self are a stunning 129-7. Having the best players and coaches is largely responsible for these great records but an intimate yet large arena and a passionate fan base don’t hurt. Years of winning and a tradition of success are evident in the championship banners that hang from the rafters but also in the chants like “Rock Chock Jayhawk”, and the singing of the great KU alma mater.
Allen Fieldhouse has a limestone exterior much like the rest of the Kansas University academic buildings. In 2006, the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, a 26,000 sf museum was added to the east side of Allen Fieldhouse in an overhaul of the building. Today a modern video board sits above center-court, bringing the historic arena up to modern-day athletic venue standards.
Like the great sporting arenas of Anfield in Liverpool or The Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, the experience at Allen Fieldhouse is one that extends beyond the playing field and continues into the stands and above. Allen Fieldhouse is made up of a collection of old stories, inside jokes and fables and the simple, pure Allen Fieldhouse serves as a backdrop to it all. Its ranking in the list of top venues to watch college basketball is debatable but its importance as a great American sporting venue is not.
Next up: 6. PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC – North Carolina State University Wolfpack