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MLS at 20

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 23, 2015

Yankee Stadium Exterior

Yankee Stadium…not exactly a soccer cathedral

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As the 20th season of MLS has begun, it is nothing but happy faces with media, league officials and fans touting the success of the league. Rightfully so as we have a come a long, long way from
this. With a new TV deal, cities vying by the dozens to join, big name players (and a few still in their primes), supporter clubs and soccer-specific stadiums, it is a rosy picture. And I’m glad as I am rooting hard for our domestic league to work. But there are some thorns on that rose as problems underlie the overall successful rise of the league. Since this is a stadium site, let’s talk about what is new this season…

In San Jose, the Earthquakes finally get their own facility as Avaya Stadium opens with a pristine design and sightlines. The huge open bar at the North End is a cool touch as well. Amazing to think how long the Quakes lasted at an antiquated college field before moving to these new digs. Orlando City joins MLS this season and they are on fire to start with 60,000+ for their opening game at the renovated Citrus Bowl. It’s not a one-time thing either as their second game got a strong figure too. The Lions move into a downtown stadium next season. Then we get to the thorny part of the league and their complete botch job of the other new franchise this season…New York City FC. Apparently, the league’s edict of having a nearly ready soccer facility only applies to smaller cities and where they are not getting huge financial opportunities. Plans for an NYCFC home have not gone well and their stuck in Yankee Stadium with nothing on the horizon. Secondly, Don Garber’s Bettman-like plan to insist that big markets have two teams is a joke. While the Red Bulls do well enough, they come nowhere near filling RBA for each game, yet the thought is that this area needs to have a “derby” and that the five boroughs will take to NYCFC because it is going to play in city limits (remember the Jets/Giants don’t exactly play in NYC). So instead of adding a city that is ready with a stadium and going to welcome it with open arms (eh-hem…Sacramento, San Antonio). We have a Man City farm club tearing up the diamond at Yankee Stadium. Along those same lines the huge mistake that was Chivas USA is gone, but instead of leaving a model franchise in LA Galaxy be and continue to grow their already solid fan base, the plan is to create another Los Angeles team in the place of Chivas.

This leads into another issue with MLS expanding into huge markets that have multiple sports teams (and of course money and TV eyeballs). While I know there are many passionate fans in these places, it often does not work as the sporting focus is on the other Big 4 sports. Take a look at Chicago, Dallas and Colorado (Denver), their MLS games do not draw well. Coming up the stream is expansion Atlanta and likely Minnesota, who are similar in terms of sports size. That’s not to say it can’t work (Philadelphia and Toronto have been successful), but the deck is stacked. Where the league’s biggest success stories have come, are in places where there is only one or two other professional teams: Portland, Kansas City, Seattle, Salt Lake and soon Orlando. That is why Sacramento and San Antonio would be perfect.

The discussion can go on and I’m sure the whole promotion/relegation argument will continue (it won’t work here), but the key to building perceived success are solid markets with filled stadiums. I say perceived as money is really the key to success. Where the league has come in 20 years is incredible and out of the 20 teams, 15 have their own SSS and 2 others make it work very well in a bigger football stadium (Seattle and Vancouver). If DC and New England can get their places built, NYC solve it’s mess, LA2 not arrive and the new expansion bids go to Sacramento, San Antonio and Indianapolis, then that would be amazing.

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March Stadium Updates

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 17, 2015

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Goodbye to the Pershing Center in Lincoln (pictured above, image from KFOR1240.com)…but hello again to Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque!

 

This month is about indoor football and the start of baseball, where we will start first…College Baseball began a month earlier and a couple new ballparks have opened, neither of which are on The List as they are under capacity. After years of delays and waiting, Coastal Carolina finally opens their 2,500-seat Springs Brooks Stadium (hard to say). The Chanticleers have a top program and the ballpark matches the direction they are headed. The other park is a product of the stupid conference re-alignment. With the generally weak baseball program of West Virginia joining the powerhouses in the Big XII, a ballpark to at least fit in the league was needed. The temporarily-named Monongalia County Ballpark will serve that purpose, but not just yet as this winter has delayed the opening. Out in Arizona, the Sun Devils followed their rivals’ footsteps as they join the University of Arizona in moving off-campus to a former spring training home. Arizona State leaves Packard Stadium to the briefly vacant Phoenix Municipal Stadium (Oakland moved their Spring Training back to Mesa and a renovated Hohokam Stadium). The move was a success in Tucson, not sure how it will pan out for the Sun Devils. Finally in the SEC, a big renovation to Sewell-Thomas Stadium means that Alabama will play all of their 2015 home games at the Hoover Met, which is still the host of the conference tournament. Georgia also made renovations to their ballpark, Foley Field.

In the world of indoor football, the United Indoor Football League folded, while two leagues merged as the CPIFL and LSFL created Champions Indoor Football. The fewer of these smaller 4-8 team leagues, the better. Not all teams made the move as a few moved to different leagues, while some ceased operations all together. One of those teams sadly was the Lincoln Haymakers. Their home, the Pershing Center has been closed and the future is in doubt for the smaller venue that now sits in the shadows of the gleaming Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’s a sad demise for the venue. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the debut of the Duke City Gladiators brings Albuquerque’s Tingley Coliseum back from the abyss. The venerable facility located on the New Mexico State Fairgrounds will be host to the Gladiators this season.

Going up to the top tier Arena Football League, Pittsburgh and San Antonio folded, while in a surprise move, the Iowa Barnstormers dropped down to the IFL. For decades, the Barnstormers have been a mainstay in the Arena League and they draw quite well in Des Moines, so this move caught me off guard. They will continue to play in Wells Fargo Arena. Meanwhile, Vegas gets a team that will play in the Thomas & Mack Center. In the IFL, to go along with the Iowa move, the Wichita Falls Nighthawks replace the Texas Calvary and in Big Sky Country, the RimRock Arena becomes home to a permanent tenant again as Billings takes the place of the Wyoming franchise that played in Casper. The Casper Event Center will remain on The List as it hosts the state basketball tournament each year. Down to the lower leagues, Georgia (Rome) and Harrisburg are out of the PIFL, while Erie is in. Meanwhile, the AIF and X-League had too many changes for me to muster the energy to discuss.

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Troubling Trend in Minor League Sports

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 10, 2015

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Say Goodbye to Worcester’s DCU Center as a hockey home next season. The Sharks have moved their affiliate to the same building as their NHL team

 

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On March 7th, a report began circulating that the Winnipeg Jets want to move their AHL affiliate from St. John’s to Winnipeg, where they would share the MTS Centre with the Jets. A month earlier, the AHL announced the creation of a California Division, with Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego and Stockton all essentially moving up a level from the ECHL. The fifth franchise, however, would be in San Jose. Unlike, Toronto and Chicago, there is only one arena in San Jose and the baby Sharks would also play in the HP Pavilion. While the moving of Eastern teams out west is sad, what is most troubling is the loss of at least one and possibly two minor-league teams as the parent franchise takes control of everything.

I may be more sentimental than others when it comes to minor-league sports, but taking away the teams from these cities hurts on a multitude of levels, even if most games involve fans looking for a fun, cheap night out as opposed to a passioned following of the team (though they are out there). Of course, this affects me selfishly on the stadium side of things, as who would rather see the JV team with the same logo, colors and building vs seeing a team that has an identity with a separate city. This hurts the little guy too as in San Jose they will now have ~80 hockey events a year in their arena, while out in Worcester (where the ECHL is not coming next season), there will be 40 fewer nights where thousands of people come downtown and spend time either before or after the game, enjoying the city and eating/drinking at local places. OK, bad example as I’ve been to the DCU Center in Worcester and the only place benefiting is the Pizzeria Uno across the street. But you get my point.

This is not just a hockey thing either. In a far worse situation, the USL (third tier of American/Canadian Soccer) is seeing an influx of MLS teams set up Reserve Squads. These generic teams now include: LA Galaxy II, New York Red Bulls II, Whitecaps FC 2, Seattle Sounders FC 2, Portland Timbers 2, Toronto FC II, Real Monarchs and FC Montreal. Blah!!! And several will play in the same home of the MLS team. Yes, this certainly has advantages for each franchise as they can closely monitor players and have an easier time with call-ups, but the smaller cities in this country will be missing out on potential professional soccer as the sport is booming (to be fair, this was a big expansion, as only one team (Dayton) was lost this coming season).

Though I’m looking at this from a stadium traveler perspective and seeing the amount of lost opportunities to visit smaller cities and more charming facilities, there are negatives mainly that the rich get richer. I’m not going crazy yet as the trend is not drastic (out of both sports, only Worcester loses out as St John’s would likely get Hamilton’s team and then Hamilton would go to the CHL), however, the moves and where teams are going is concerning. Maybe this side of the topic would get more media attention if it happened in baseball, where stadium travel is more prevalent and there is a deeper connection to local baseball teams. Imagine the uproar if the Tampa Bay Rays said “Sorry Durham, we want our players closer, they are going to play all afternoon games in the Trop and you are left with an empty ballpark”.

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Conference Championship Destinations

Posted by Sean Rowland on March 3, 2015

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Honda Center in Anaheim, CA…home to the Big West Basketball Tournament (photo from Jason Bartel at Stadium Journey)

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The calendar has turned to the third month of the year and you know what that means…March Madness! Yes, even though I’ve been down on the sport of college basketball, I can not help myself from getting excited as the postseason draws near. While mainstream media and the general population focus attention on the Big Tournament, the conference gatherings are just as special. The culmination of a frenetic regular season all boils down to a neat, tidy bracket to determine a champion (well, save for leagues like the Horizon and MAC with their step-ladder approach). Conference Tournaments feature competitive games, amazing moments and annual fan gatherings at neutral-site destinations. I’ve written before where I think each league should host their ultimate finale, but for this post I want to focus on which ones are the best place to spend a 3-4 days as a bi-partisan fan and enjoy the entire event. As always, I like to focus on the leagues that get less attention, so this list will stay clear of the Power Five:

 

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1)  Las Vegas, NV  –  Orleans Arena (WCC) and Thomas & Mack Center (MWC)  

The first choice is obvious…Vegas Baby! As the ultimate sports travel destination, Sin City hosts a remarkable four conference tournaments (Pac-12 and WAC are the others). Despite the seeming contradictory decision of the West Coast Conference to have their all religious-following members gather in a place that isn’t exactly conducive to behaving by Catholic/Mormon standards, the move made here six years ago has been a resounding success. And they moved to a traditional bracket! The WCC plays a little off the Strip in the Orleans Hotel & Casino. I stayed here back in 2009 and loved it as the facility had everything you want in a Vegas hotel, plus it is quieter and the heart of the city is only a few minutes drive away. Meanwhile, across town at the Thomas & Mack Center, the Mountain West Conference gathers a week later for their shindig. While UNLV is the host, the obvious lure of the bright lights brings tons of fans in to the pro-style arena which negates a significant advantage. Check out the mass of fans New Mexico had with them for the 2013 final against the Rebels.

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2)  St. Louis  –  Scottrade Center (Missouri Valley Conference)

Nowhere else in college basketball will you find such a gathering of alumni and fans convening for the annual event in St. Louis. That means the bars in Laclede’s Landing are quite colorful from the yellow of Wichita State to the Bradley/Illinois State red and the Northern Iowa/Evansville purple. This is the rare “mid-major” event capable of filling an entire large arena and the central location of St. Louis within the league’s footprint makes them an ideal host. Scottrade Center being downtown and close to attractions along with post-game establishments already set the stage for a great arena trip. However, it is the people and tight-knit community of these Midwestern schools where the atmosphere sets it apart.

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3)  Anaheim, CA  –  Honda Center (Big West Conference)

The California Bus League (aka Big West) culminates it’s season in Anaheim and SoCal is a great destination to go along with a neat, three-day Thursday-Saturday Tournament. My only issue is they moved venues a few years ago to the way-too-big Honda Center. With crowds not filling even half the place, their former home at the Anaheim Convention Center was a much more appropriate venue. Plus the location there is perfect as right across the street is DisneyLand. Regardless, the Honda Center is still only 5 minutes away down Katella Ave and the amenities at the big arena are better.

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4)  Cleveland, OH  –  Quicken Loans Arena (Mid-American Conference)

So why Cleveland in Winter…MACtion! This is always a hotly contested event and the downtown area has shed the whole “Mistake-by-the-Lake” moniker. Not far from the arena is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the Great Lakes Science Center right next door. Now, if they would just do something about that horrible arena name and go back to their original title of “Gund Arena”.

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5)  Asheville, NC  –  U.S. Cellular Center (Southern Conference)

One of the Nation’s oldest conferences came back to a neutral site in Asheville to resounding success and this peaceful, eclectic getaway near the Smoky Mountains is a terrific place to visit. The U.S. Cellular Center is in the historic downtown, notable for it’s stunning architecture and array of small local places to eat. Make sure to check out the massive Biltmore Estate while in town too. The arena that hosts the SoCon action may have a new name, but it is certainly old school as the Civic Center box design screams 1970s, but features great sight-lines from the small upper section of seating.

Posted in College Basketball | 3 Comments »

Feb 2015 Stadium of the Month – Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 23, 2015

Jacksonville Memorial Veterans Arena

Jacksonville Memorial Veterans Arena (photo from Stadium Journey and taken by Lloyd Brown)

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Like a good portion of the Eastern United States, I am sick of winter and need warmth. Doesn’t that picture above look cozy and inviting? So let’s head to the Sunshine State this month for our featured stadium. That arena in the image is the Jacksonville Memorial Veterans Arena, a building that many don’t know exists thanks to the lackluster list of tenants. Despite being part of the 40th sized market in the country, the Sharks of the Arena Football League are the main draw in the 12-year old facility (along with Jacksonville University Basketball). With 13,000 – 14,000 seats for sporting events, it does fit the mold quite well for the NCAA Basketball Tournament’s opening rounds and in a few weeks, the Populous designed arena will play host once again.

The arena, along with the ballpark, was a part of an improvement plan for the city and this complex of sports venues (along with EverBank Field) makes up the east end along the St. James River. It may look and sound nice, but there is no real reason to explore the immediate area before the game. In fact, Jacksonville is not exactly at the top of tourism lists in Florida (one person who went to the Super Bowl several years back described it as a “hole” to me), but the arena is a different story.

The brick building with aqua accents is warm on the eye. Starting with a nice impression is the Hall of Fame found near the front entrance, where various displays of memorabilia shape the story of Jacksonville’s sporting history. Inside is an arena compromised well between modern-day luxuries and the common fan. Sitting steeply above a row of luxury suites on the side is a 300 level that is closer to the court than normal due to the arena’s relatively smaller size. While the city may not be a great destination for an NCAA weekend, check out a Sharks game. They pack the place pretty well and the season starts April 3.
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The Best League To Take a Trip Through

Posted by Sean Rowland on February 7, 2015

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Regardless of sport, for those that enjoy stadium travel in the US and Canada, it can be difficult to find an entire league to visit. Several reasons are to blame for the geographical divergence, money being the main one (I’m looking at you, NCAA). However, there are still a few options for those wanting to travel only by car and none are better than the Ontario Hockey League. Diversity is the biggest positive for choosing a journey through the OHL. Cities range from the capital in Ottawa to tiny Owen Sound (population just over 20,000). There is great opportunity not only to visit the province, but the league also ventures into Michigan and Pennsylvania. The arenas provide a nice variety in size and architecture with old classics like those in Kitchener and North Bay mixed with modern beauties like in London. Finally, a very important factor in my book is the atmosphere and in many of these towns, there is a deep, vested interest in their home hockey franchise. That translates to a much better crowd experience than typically found in the professional hockey minor leagues.

This is why over the last few years I’ve made some trips up to Canada and I am planning on making the trip through the league. My brother Eric has been joining me and my family back in Rochester, NY is a strategic place to branch off from as 19 out of the 20 teams are within a six hour drive (the remaining city, Sault Ste. Marie, is a hike from anywhere). In the last few years we have seen Barrie and Kingston, just enough to wet our appetite for future years and trips. For anyone looking to go the same route, check out The OHL Arena & Travel Guide, a longstanding online fixture that is the definitive source for the entire experience.

There are a couple of other leagues worth an honorable mention……In basketball, the vastly underrated experience is the Missouri Valley Conference. It matches the OHL in many categories and can be done all by car. From Chicago to Cedar Falls to Carbondale and points in between, fans come out in droves during the freezing winter months. Probably the best experience in all of college basketball is at the Roundhouse in Wichita State. The set of arenas is as diversified as the sport has to offer……For a more laid-back leisurely league trip, check out the Southern League, in the AA-level of Minor League Baseball. Comprised of 10 teams, baseball’s everyday schedule allows for this trip to be done in a two-week period if crafty with planning. Lots of new ballparks to enjoy and there are nice places to tour along the way as Jacksonville, Pensacola, Biloxi and Chattanooga all are in the league’s footprint. 

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Jan 2015 Stadium of the Month – Sanford Pentagon

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 30, 2015

Sanford

Sanford Pentagon, located in Sioux Falls, SD (image from http://www.sanfordpentagon.com)

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In the last decade, I do not think there has been a better idea for a basketball arena theme/design then the relatively new Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD. The Pentagon is a massive basketball facility indeed shaped like the name says and a total of nine basketball courts are available. At it’s center is “Heritage Court”, with 3,200 seats on four sides and a decent mix of suites and boxes. The beauty of the arena is how it pays homage to the olden days of basketball. Windows let in outdoor light, the floor is an exquisite parquet (with an outline of the 1950s-style skinny key) and the best part is the old-school time clock. Modern amenities mix with these older touches very well and the goal of what they were trying to do is quite successful. They were also looking to become a center of basketball events and Sioux Falls is quickly getting there. In addition to being home to the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBDL, the Pentagon has hosted some decent early-season Division I basketball games and the Women’s Division II National Championship is coming this March. Expect more events in future years.

Sioux Falls has turned into a hot little spot to pick up a bunch of stadium visits in one weekend. Along with seeing the Pentagon, fans can check out the brand new 10,450-seat Danny Sanford Premier Center for a hockey game with the Stampede. Meanwhile, the older facility it replaced (Sioux Falls Arena) is still being used by Augustana College for basketball. That’s three winter arenas and for the really ambitious, Sioux City and the USHL’s Musketeers are a little over an hour south down on I-29.
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Airing of Grievances

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 23, 2015

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Giant graphics like these that stay on the screen forever is just a small sampling of Fox’s sucky soccer coverage

 

I’ve got a lot of problems with you people! The following is not stadium-related, but it’s always fun to get these sports issues out into the open….

 

-  My favorite sport of college basketball is getting harder to watch for a number of reasons, but the last two minutes of games is eye-gouging. The start/stop nature is being exacerbated by an insane amount of replay reviews as officials find the need to go to the monitor for every single out-of-bounds play or extra tenth of a second off the clock. Not to mention that we need to look at the replay just in case somebody pushed another player, such a heinous act! I’m ready to throw something when officials have two of themselves look at the monitor, then the other referee, then talk about it, then talk forever to the coaches, then talk to the broadcasters, then make the call. It’s almost unwatchable. Andrew Murawa had a great article over at Rush The Court on the issue.

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-  Robert Allenby….Really?

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- I’m still trying to figure out how exactly Chris Fowler came to become ESPN’s #1 Play-by-Play college football announcer. Shouldn’t you have to put in some time as an actual announcer instead of getting anointed for such a huge gig. Aside from a few Thursday Night games, Fowler strictly was/is a studio host and how ESPN caters to him is a such a joke, especially since it’s not like he has wowed in his position. If you are going to boot Musburger fine, but tell me why far more deserving, long-standing broadcasters like the excellent Brad Nessler or the terrific Sean McDonough do not get that promotion. How this is just accepted by everyone, I have no idea (PS, same thing happened on tennis, where Fowler sidled his way in to demoted Cliff Drysdale).

-  Fox’s atrocious soccer and studio coverage deserves it’s own post. From the obsession with standing around a fake soccer field to the Gus Johnson experiment to the unlikeableness of Eric Wynalda…they are as bad as ESPN World Cup / NBC Premier League is good. I’ll stick with one point today and it is a simple one. Why do they have to put on a graphic that takes up 15% of the screen at the end of the game to tell us who won!!! While watching the Everton-West Ham 3rd Round Replay penalty shootout (that one hurt real bad as an Everton fan), Fox puts a graphic up saying West Ham wins. I couldn’t get a screenshot, but the graphic is the same layout as the one in the picture at the top. We just watched the freakin game finish, why do you have to place this giant banner that West Ham won and leave it on the screen for a minute! They did this last year too when Arsenal won the FA Cup. I think the viewer can see that they won, so watch the celebration pictures. Errrr!!!!!

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-  How is Zac Rinaldo still playing in the NHL? This goon consistently makes dirty, late hits that put players in jeopardy and that was seen again Wednesday as he concussed Kris Letang and even bragged about it after. He’ll get suspended, but then will be right back in his uniform a few games later. Even some Flyers fans think he is an embarrassment, which is saying something. It seems that a player has to be stretchered off for the NHL to actually take notice, despite all of their hypocrisy gibberish about player safety.

 

Finally, we have to end on a good note. If you want a smile on your face at the end of a long day, I urge you turn on any Pac-12 basketball game that is broadcasted by Bill Walton and Dave Pasch. I’ve loved Bill for awhile and I can’t describe the things that come out of his mouth. I laughed out loud several times last night, probably the most when he called Karl Ravech “Kevin Radish” and Pasch responded by saying “He’s only been with us at ESPN for about 25 years”. Anyway, enjoy just a small sampling of the amazingness…Throw it down big man, One Time!

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Hoops with the Dukes and Vulcans

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 12, 2015

A.J. Palumbo Center

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Even though the temperature never exceeded 8 degrees on my drive across Pennsylvania Saturday Morning, a bright blue sky was all that mattered. I could deal with the cold since I wouldn’t be spending much time outdoors, but gloves were certainly needed for the exterior photos. My first visit to Pittsburgh in 2008 was awesome and I really enjoyed the city. Driving though is a pain as while all the bridges, rivers and hills make for spectacular sights, the roads are confounding. At least getting to my first destination was smooth and I arrived on the Bluff for Duquesne’s home basketball game around Noon. I also got a great view of the Consol Energy Center as the home of the Pens is a couple blocks from the A.J. Palumbo Center. After dropping $10 for parking (boo downtown campuses), I got inside the small corridor and into the arena. I liked the bright layout and though simple, there were enough quirks to keep me interested. A 2010 renovation really did this place wonders and turned it into a quality small arena. There are four sections of seating divided between A and B levels with the corners open. With only about 1500 in attendance, I picked the B3 section to sit in, which was a nice elevated upper area that sits over the hospitality area. Renovations also led to wide chairbacks and a really nice scoreboard. A couple suggested improvements to the staff: add some signage in the building for the somewhat hidden downstairs corridor on the north side of the building. I had no idea it existed and it led to more bathrooms, concessions and basketball displays. Also, turn down the sound system and the heat. Otherwise, the building is a step up from conference foes LaSalle and Fordham, but not as good as their opponent on the day, Rhode Island. Full reviews on the whole experience will be updated soon.

The small crowd was into it for the first half as the Dukes surprised Rhode Island with decent defense and they had multiple double digit leads before the half. As the Rams crawled back, the fans faded too and the comeback was complete as Rhody took their first lead in forever with just 1:14 left. Duquesne’s Micah Mason (who was impressive on the day) made a floater to put Duquesne back on top. Only 21 seconds remained when Rhode Island got the ball back and after they missed on the ensuing possession, a scramble for the ball led to a foul and Jared Terrell made both for a 61-60 lead. Given my history with Rhode Island, I was convinced I’d see something special as Duquessne’s Derrick Colter let a jumper go at the buzzer. But it was not to be and the Rams escaped, and I mean escaped, with a one-point win. Blah, I can’t stand that maniac Danny Hurley on the sidelines (he got T’d up during the game) and watching them run off the court with a win sucked. For the Dukes, it’s been since 1977 since they’ve made the NCAA tournament and fans unfortunately are accustomed to these stinging losses. Fun fact, this is the fourth time I’ve seen Rhode Island play and all of the games have been entertaining. They are 2-2 when I’m attendance.

My GPS had some issues with the downtown roads, confusing them for the overhead interstates, so luckily I wrote down the way to get to the Liberty Tunnel and out of the city. I was on my way to California…the borough. It took about an hour to reach Cal U of PA, for my first Division II arena. They built a Convocation Center that should have been called the Controversy Center instead. A corrupt and blind administration led the push for the $59 million, 5,000 seat building. Keep in mind that the combined population of the borough and the college is just 14,000. A feasibility study pushed for a smaller, cheaper building, yet the now fired Angelo Armenti got his way and the school is stuck in debt. Not one event has sold the place out, even graduation. It doesn’t end there as enrollment is down, the school just laid off 30 of their staff and the football team had to forfeit a game this year because of players involved in a brawl in the town. Yikes. So while yes, this facility is nicer than probably half of the ones in Division I, it has not come without problems.
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CalU Convocation Center

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Putting that aside, as you would expect for that money, it is a nice place. The brick building starts with a video message board on the outside showing flames (the school is known as the Vulcans). Deep red seats wrap around 3/4ths of the court and they extend a good distance back with a wide walkway overlooking the floor from the top end. When I walked in, I was surprised to hear so much noise as the women were wrapping up and the crowd was really into it. Turned out to be a great finish and Indiana (of PA) won in OT. As I got ready to watch the same two teams with state names do battle on the Men’s side, it was surprising to see a good chunk of the crowd gone. That energy from the earlier contest disappeared too as each time a basket was scored, maybe 10 people clapped. IUP made sure to keep the arena quiet (though half of the fans inside were their’s) as they jumped out to a 20-2 lead and never looked back. The Hawks took care of CalU 69-45.

I stopped at Spuds in the sleepy town and though they specialize in funky fries for college kids, I got a decent sandwich in the completely empty place and got to my hotel to catch the end of the Ravens-Pats playoff game. It was back to Jersey on Sunday and expect to see a pair of reviews up on the website later this week. I’ll be writing for Stadium Journey as well. It was definitely nice to experience some college basketball again!

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Saturday Basketball in Western PA

Posted by Sean Rowland on January 6, 2015

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It’s January and college basketball is in the process of getting into the conference-play portion of the season, the best time to make a visit for a couple of games. I wanted to make sure that students were back on campus at whatever arena I went to see and most are still on break this weekend, except out in Western PA, where both Pitt and Duquense are into the Spring Semester. Unfortunately, they play at practically the same time (12 and 1 PM respectively). With my shift for work not ending until 12 AM Friday Night, sleep will be limited before heading out early Saturday Morning for the five hour drive, so I’m going with Duquense’s 1 PM game against Rhode Island at the AJ Palumbo Center. Now surprisingly in that region, there are a couple of D-II basketball arenas that make The List with a seating capacity over 3500, so the timing works out nicely as after the Dukes game, I’ll drive 50 minutes to the south to California (PA) for a 5 PM tip at their relatively new Convocation Center. Should be a quick, efficient journey before heading back to NJ Sunday Morning.

Studying all of this stuff for awhile, I think I have plans for future day trips to this part of the country. My thinking for separating trips out is Pitt and Indiana (PA) bball; Steelers and Pitt volleyball; Penguins and Johnstown hockey. We’ll see if that pans out, but it’s a nice/neat thought at least. In the meantime, I’ll focus on Saturday…look for a recap next week with reviews to follow including a pair at Stadium Journey.

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