That’s it, we’re done. Our Preseason Top 10: College Basketball Edition is in the books and as expected it revealed some interesting trends. We took a sampling of ten college arenas based not on a subjective rating of their value, charm or noise level but rather, as we will no doubt see come March, on a subjective preseason rating of their home teams. The result is a cross-sectional look at modern American university arenas – gems, duds, stinkers and surprises. The tremendous range of arena-type has been the most fascinating part of this series. This variety tells us a lot about the state of sports architecture on American college campuses today.
Trends have emerged and the 10 arenas can be grouped as follows:
The Old Jewel Boxes – Cameron Indoor Stadium (Duke), Allen Fieldhouse (Kansas) and Assembly Hall (Indiana) for now cling to the notion that their arena plays a large part in their respective program’s success. These buildings, ranging in size from 9,000 to 17,000, lack both the large seating capacity and luxury suites of more modern facilities and as a result rely on sold-out crowds every night to reason their continued existence. Duke, Kansas and Indiana get extra revenue from regular national TV showings and annual post-season tournament runs. The tradition that each of these schools is steeped in is immense and these three buildings all play a large part in that history. Sadly, Indiana’s Assembly Hall, the most recently built of the three, will likely be the first to fall.
The Ageing Giants – The 33,000-seat Carrier Dome (Syracuse) and 24-000-seat Rupp Arena (Kentucky) are both relics of the late 70’s and early 80’s – giant concrete behemoths with (a whole lot of) bleacher seating that generously accommodates huge hometown crowds. The Carrier Dome has a section of club and luxury suites while Rupp Arena does not. Both basketball programs outshine their football counterparts and these huge venues’ regular ticket receipts keep their respective athletic departments’ coffers full. Each building has its architectural merits – Carrier Dome’s bright translucent roof, Rupp Arena’s no-nonsense efficiency – though neither are beauties. While Rupp Arena could see its run end soon with a downtown redevelopment plan, the Carrier Dome’s multi-functionality serves SU well and as a result it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
The Modern Renos – The Crisler Center (Michigan) built in 1967 and the O’Connell Center (Florida) built a decade later are both modern facilities that have seen major renovations over the past twenty years. While both arenas serve huge student populations, the relatively small 12,000-seat O’Connell Center and 13,700-seat Crisler Center have the highest ratio of student population to arena capacity of the ten facilities we’ve looked at. Sadly, the multi-purpose O’Connell Center’s late-90’s renovations converted their translucent Teflon roof to concrete, making it a function first facility. Renovations this season will expand the gymnastics venue by building out the exterior of the O’Dome and will allow for further continued multi-functionality of the venue going forward. Michigan unveils its new-look Crisler Center this season and as with the renovations to the O’Connell center, Michigan is building out the exterior of its arena. A new, prominent entry, UM Athletics Museum, team store and larger concourses will occupy the expanded north side. New lighting, new seats, additional club areas and a new court spiff up the interior that will in large part resemble the Crisler Center’s old self. As time passes these two arenas could join Cameron Indoor as ageing beauties that through smart renovation and successful teams stand the test of time.
The Pro-Style Newbies – PNC Arena (NC State), Value City Center (Ohio State) and the KFC Yum! Center (Louisville) are all less than twenty years old and are all pro-style arenas. With their large seating capacities of well over 18,500, corporate names and luxury suites, restaurants and club lounges, these three buildings represent three large, public universities putting all their chips in on the potential for profit in modern sporting arenas.
In the hyper-competitive world of college basketball, unsuccessful runs can hit a team hard and attendance can drop. Arenas loaded with revenue generating components provide a safety net should such a run occur. With promises of increased concerts, shows and speakers as well as possible NCAA Tournament games, these arenas are an economic model that is hard for Universities to resist. None of these models is inherently good or bad but it is important that each strategy is handled by the most creative, thoughtful designers available. They are often the largest investment Universities will make; it is crucial that they get it right.