November 12, 2017
Convocation Center (Capacity: 8,754)
Eastern Michigan Eagles vs Michigan-Dearborn Wolverines
Final Score: 97 – 73
* The arena was renamed George Gervin GameAbove Center
The final arena on a four-game trip to Michigan ended with an afternoon matinee at the home of Eastern Michigan University. This large public school is located in Ypsilanti (Ip-Sil-Anti), a city of only 19,000 in the southeast part of the state. Named after a General from the Greek Revolution, Ypsilanti is a grittier, more industrial town compared to their popular neighbors 20 minutes away in Ann Arbor. Eastern Michigan became a Division I school in the mid-1970s when they joined the MAC. Their basketball team had a period of success from 1987 to 1998, when they made the NCAA Tournament four times and won the conference regular-season title thrice. Those years were the only times the Eagles have achieved those accomplishments. The Convocation Center was built in 1998 and it is one of the nicest homes in the MAC. Too bad very few come out to see the team that plays in it.
Prestige Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
Ypsi has a mix of good and bad areas with the highlight being the small Depot Town section just north of downtown. There are several decent restaurants here and it is also close to a pair of museums; one for Michigan’s automotive history and the other recognizing Firefighting. Downtown has an older feel and there are places to eat/drink here too. Both sections run over the Huron River, which cuts through town. The most visible sight throughout Ypsilanti is the water tower, which resembles, well, to put it eloquently, a male body part. It’s worth getting a closer look not just for comedy and selfie sake, but to also check out the history of the structure. Campus is on the western part of town and the Convocation Center is even further west. The location is inside an athletic section and outside of that is just some apartment complexes.
Location Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
A large parking lot is in front of the arena and even though that is all that is needed, extra lots used for the nearby football stadium can be found across the street. It is very easy to reach the arena by car and the main highways for arrival are I-94 and US-23.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 8 out of 8
The Convocation Center has a boxy look to it, especially upon approach from the access road. There are two layers to the building: the first is gray with plank paneling that reminded me of pull-out bleachers at a high-school gym (were it not for the gray color). The top layer is siding in the color of green, which adds a little life to the arena. It gets nicer at the entrance with a crafty little overhang. Fans walking in to this area can partially make out the “EASTERN” on the north end of the building. An arena sign or even a board out front would be helpful as the initial introduction is a bit cold.
Exterior Ranking: 4 out of 10
Walking in is a much different story as visitors are greeted by a beautiful atrium that is accented in green and decked out with Block E logos. On the left, are floor to ceiling windows that offer a splendid panoramic of Rynearson Stadium. Even with a little fun zone on the side for kids, there is a vast amount of space in this area. Just past the ticket office is the entrance inside, which leads to a traditional concourse in the shape of a square. Walkways are tighter, but that is not a problem with EMU BB crowd size. Walls are tiled, while the rest of the concourse has exposed concrete and there are even some spots where giant air ducts are visible.
Concourse Ranking: 4 out of 5
Space is available for several food stands, however only one was open for this game. Using an open-face letter board, limited choices included sausage, hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, popcorn and nachos. My Western New York roots were happy to see soda labelled as “Pop”.
Food Ranking: 2 out of 8
The intimate interior design is one that I’m partial to as there were only a few drawbacks. Designed in the shape of a rectangle, nearly all of the dark green seats have backs. The seating structure is good, but the lack of angled corners means that far sideline seats are pointed towards the end seats and not the court. I love me an upper deck and the Convocation Center has one as the second level is above a middle walkway used for handicap seating and a few sideline suites. The upper sections are not needed because of crowd size, so specially-designed covers are laid over the seats. This area is also on the darker side and does not benefit much from arena lighting. I still managed to sneak up here as I really like the vantage point. About half of the lower seats are telescopic so that bigger events can use the floor.
Interior Ranking: 10 out of 14
Above center court is a perfect modern scoreboard. Four sides were video and the ESPN3 feed was played during the contest. About 20% of the screen size was reserved for detailed game information. Completing the sleek look are the “E” logos on the corner panels and underside of the board, while the top display said “Eastern Michigan”.
Scoreboard Ranking: 4 out of 4
Located at the end of the opening atrium by the wall of windows is the E-club Athletic Hall of Fame. There are lots of athlete plaques to peruse in this HOF and the school even started running out of room as the 2017 class was buried in a corner near a closet door. Otherwise, this is a fine section to honor the best Eagles. Deeper inside the concourse, there is little else to see, save for the fight song mural on one of the walls. Banners hang down from the rafters in the arena and they are a hodgepodge of designs that depended on when they were first created. Conference, NCAA and NIT honors are recognized. At the other end, are the jerseys of four EMU Men’s Basketball players and one Women’s.
Displays Ranking: 3 out of 6
Every game is $12, which feels a little much when watching EMU play against one of four Non-DI opponents on the schedule. Otherwise, the price is comparable to the cheapest seats that most MAC schools offer, making it a good deal. Parking at the Convocation Center is free and the few concessions available are quite inexpensive (max: $4).
Cost Ranking: 8 out of 8
Often derided within league circles, Eastern Michigan struggles to bring in fans for basketball games. I counted a grand total of 325 in attendance, 20 of them students in their own section. I know it’s hard to get up for an NAIA school on a Sunday Afternoon, but things aren’t much better during conference play as they are perennially at the bottom of the league in the attendance rankings. Last year’s season finale was only the 3rd time in 12 years that announced attendance was over 3,000 (and that’s still less than half the building).
Fan Support Ranking: 1.5 out of 8
As one would expect with a crowd so small, every voice on the floor was audible throughout the arena. Gentile clapping from those in attendance made up the extent of the crowd interaction.
Atmosphere Ranking: 1.5 out of 14
For decades, Eastern Michigan’s nickname was the “Hurons”, but that changed in 1991, shortly after the state prohibited athletic nicknames derived from Native American tribes. Eastern went with “Eagles”……The Eagles made some noise when they got to the Big Dance as they reached the Sweet 16 in 1991 and beat Duke in 1996. Earl Boykins led that ’96 team and he went on to have a decent NBA career…..OK Michigan-Dearborn, why does your school logo and color have to be the same as Ann Arbor? I get it, the campus is part of the UM umbrella. But I wish we could see a little separation from the athletic program.
It was an up-tempo affair that featured entertaining basketball and Dearborn hung with the Eagles as they were only down six at the break, thanks in part to their ability to beat EMU’s press. Defense was their deficiency and a run to start the second half led the Eagles to pull away and win the game by 24. EMU shot 57% from the field and Elijah Minnie finished with 27 points. James Thompson IV pulled down 13 rebounds.