January 28, 2023
WVU Coliseum (Capacity: 14,000)
West Virginia Mountaineers vs Auburn Tigers
Final Score: 80 – 77
A few months after seeing a football game here, I returned to the flagship school in the state of West Virginia for basketball. Located in Morgantown, this college town in the far northern part of the state along the Monongalia River has a population of 30,000, making it the third largest city in this rural state. Along with being home to WVU, Morgantown is also a proficient glass producer and was once home to many of their factories. The university has over 25,000 students and after decades in the Big East, the Mountaineers are an outlier misfit in the Big 12. It’s unfortunate because it makes the most sense for them to be in the ACC, but the stuck-up conference won’t accept them. Many don’t realize how good their basketball program has been as they have an overall record over .600. They may not have had much conference title success, but WVU has made 30 NCAA Tournament appearances and getting to the Sweet Sixteen almost a dozen times is a great accomplishment. The Mountaineers made the Final Four in 1959, led by some guy named Jerry West. The 2010 squad that got that far is most remembered for the moment when Bob Huggins consoled Da’Sean Butler after a gruesome injury. My personal memories are watching West Virginia in the Big East against Syracuse and also falling in love with the 2005 squad and a group of fascinating players like Gansey, Young, Beilein and Pittsnogle that were so fun to watch play together. Their home is the WVU Coliseum, an old concrete structure built in 1970.
Prestige Ranking: 4 out of 5
There are multiple campuses spread out through Morgantown and the WVU Coliseum is located on the Evansdale campus north of downtown. The arena is separated from the neighborhood as it lies between Monongahela Boulevard and the River. To the east lie school buildings, small homes and plenty of fast food joints (though you can find a decent spot or two in the spread-out area). Downtown is a couple miles south and while you can expect a college-town vibe along High Street, the rest of the city is quite bleh. Outside of a small history museum (which was nice, but took me less than hour to go through), your best bet for day-of-game exploring (if the weather is right) is the beautiful overlook at Coopers Rock, 30 minutes to the west.
Location Ranking: 4.5 out of 10
Accessibility / Parking
Morgantown is rural, but it’s only an hour or so down I-79 from Pittsburgh. Those coming from the east will use I-68 over the mountains. The town itself is full of hilly, winding streets, many of which are poorly designed and full of bumps. If you are just driving in and out for the game, that won’t be an issue because it’s one four lane road from I-79. What is a big issue is parking. The lots around the Coliseum are nowhere near enough for the capacity of the building, plus much of it is reserved for season pass holders. The limited cash-only / day-of-game space gets filled very quickly. It’s not exactly clear where to go thereafter. I suppose you could take a risk at a chain restaurant along Patteson Drive and then walk. Otherwise, the “overfill” lot is by the hospital and that is a 25-minute hilly walk away (plus shuttle buses aren’t running from there this season). It’s really crazy what little parking there is for an arena this size. Traffic post-game is a slog.
Another option is to park at a downtown garage and then utilize the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system. This cool little automated people mover was the first in the U.S. when it opened in 1975. 69 electronically powered vehicles connect campus with downtown and each little pod has eight seats and room for another 5-10 to stand. It’s a 10-minute ride to the closest station (Engineering) and then another a 10-minute walk to the Coliseum. It’s a neat ride, but the PRT does have issues though as it occasionally breaks down and waiting to see which track to get on is not ideal. The PRT is also closed on Sundays and hours can be limited for night games, so check their schedule.
Accessibility / Parking Ranking: 2 out of 8
The WVU Coliseum is an impressive structure as it stands on its own as the focal point in the area. It is a circular domed building and while there is a lot of drab, beige concrete, four different entry gates break up the monotony. These gates have a fair amount of windows and a large sign. Small windows can also be seen at the top of the Coliseum before the roof begins as little slits allow some interior daylight. The ruffled white roof is a bit tough to see up-close as it curves upward, but it is much more defining when viewed from a distance.
Exterior Ranking: 4 out of 10
The concourse is nicely spruced up with blue and gold (yellow?) walls and signage reflective of where you are. A charcoal-colored floor adds to the ambiance. The downfall is there is only one mid-level concourse circling the arena and that’s way too small for 14,000. Width is not great at all and the lower ceilings make it feel even tighter. The concourse was actually more jammed pre-game than halftime, but I think that is because many stayed in their seats for the entertainment. Outward extensions help a bit, including one food court like area with plenty of tables and chairs. The bathroom situation is frustrating because the amount of stalls in each section varies wildly and it’s a cruel game if you pick the wrong one (like I did after the game as I waited nearly 10 minutes to get in the one with only two urinals).
Concourse Ranking: 2.5 out of 5
Basic stadium grub can be found throughout the building and in spots, you’ll find a few unexpected items. One stand is like a “Market” and that includes a large case of premade sandwiches, salads and fruit cups. The other area that does not act like a traditional concession stand features some fancied up Sandwiches, Loaded Tater Tots and a nice smelling Maple Bacon Cinnamon Roll. If you are looking for something simple, I do recommend getting a Pepperoni Roll, only because it is a staple in the state. Beer, wine and seltzers are all available from the alcohol department, though I could not find anything more than national brands.
Food Ranking: 6 out of 8
WVU Coliseum is simple with the focus being on general seating for watching basketball (something I like). The seating design follows the shape of the court with corner sections being curved. There is a 100-level and a 200-level, which is separate by a walkway. Because there is no upper-deck, the seats further back in the 200s are a good distance from the court. The positive part though is that the bowl is steep and every row goes up a couple stairs (even in the 100s). This allows for great sightlines and I never encountered a head or railing in my way as I wondered around. The blue seats are wide and they have cupholders and skinny armrests. Towards court level, there are pullout sections with about 10 rows and these have a much gentler incline and a tighter footprint (it is only a very small percentage of seats though). One of the sides is reserved for the standing student section. There are also five pullout rows behind the basket and the reason here is because they carved a club out from underneath the main seating bowl. Back up towards the top of the arena, seats arc up a bit as there are a handful more rows in the middle of each of the four sides as opposed to the corners. The pie-like domed roof is a defining feature of the Coliseum, making it feel both cavernous and unique. The gray concrete panels are lit up towards the top in an orange-goldish lighting.
Interior Ranking: 9.5 out of 14
I actually think the center scoreboard is too big. When I came out of the concourse and into the arena, it was the first thing that dominated the view. In fact, the inside of the scoreboard has a smaller video screen to make it easier for those sitting low to see. With that being said, it is very clear and does what you want it to do very well. In a square shape with rounded corners, the main screen has great replay frequency. The score is digitally placed towards the bottom of the board and the top ribbon is utilized for thorough player stats, which is great information. Despite, my complaint of “too big” (which I’m sure I’m in the minority), I still gave it a perfect ranking as it is solid all around.
Scoreboard Ranking: 4 out of 4
The Mountaineers’ practice facility is a separate building just steps from the Coliseum. The front entrance contains the Hall of Traditions, a really cool space that contains artifact cases, memorabilia and plenty of history outlining the Men’s and Women’s programs. This opens two hours before the start of the game, allowing time for fans to make a visit. It was great and I enjoyed my time here. In addition, you’ll likely see players walking through as they head to the arena and I even was next to Bob Huggins as he walked by and casually said hello to a few fans while displaying his dry wit. Not many big time coaches would be comfortable in that setting. Very cool.
Outside the Coliseum, there are two statues: Hot Rod Huntley and Jerry West. Both have an inscription plate and in the concourse, there is more homage to West as a couple display cases show off his entire career to fans. You’ll see each of their retired numbers with a picture banner at the top of the arena wall in a corner (also there is a #44 for Rod Thorn). More of these types of displays are seen in other corners as they call it “Mountaineer Legends Society”. Team honors are found above the scoreboard (that’s how cavernous the building is) as skinny blue/gold banners honor NCAA Tournament achievements like Final Four and Sweet Sixteen appearances. Years that the team made the Tournament are on blue, wider banners.
Displays Ranking: 6 out of 6
Parking is $10 if you get into the main lot and concession prices weren’t bad as a Hot Dog cost $4.50, a Burger/Fries combo was $10.50 and a beer stayed under double digits. For tickets, it’s pretty tough to find info as weekend big conference games weren’t available through the team when I looked mid-season. Still, I was impressed that preseason Mini-Packs for 4-5 conference games only went for $100 – $150. In addition, non-conferences games were $20 or less (except Auburn)…..and mid-tier games against teams like Iowa State and Texas Tech had seats for $20 – $40 throughout the upper level. Big 12 games on the secondary market were in the affordable $25 – $50 range for the 200 level. The 100 level was a different story (over $100 most times)
Cost Ranking: 6.5 out of 8
It was an announced sell out and the optics were favorable for a relative big game as it was a weekend, an SEC / Top 25 opponent and a good, but not great WVU team. Empty seats were few and far between as I estimated the Coliseum at about 95% full. Late game saw many leave, which was similar to the football game and something I don’t understand and get frustrated by. Otherwise, fan support is really good and they love their basketball in Morgantown. Conference season features crowds near or at capacity and there were even a few non-conference games that I was impressed with the turnout (like a December game vs UAB). Last season, the team was in the Top 30 for the NCAA’s attendance rankings.
Fan Support Ranking: 7 out of 8
Before the game starts, there is a great tradition as the P.A. announces “Let’s roll out the carpet and greet the Mountaineers”. This goes back to 1955 as introduced players walk out on a Blue and Gold carpet. The 12 PM start time may have led to a sleepy crowd as they weren’t into it at the start. The music was blaring and the students were jumping, but there was a lack of energy from the rest of the house. That quickly changed. Each basket was met with abundant applause and key plays got louder as the half progressed. Mountaineer fans gave their team a thunderous ovation as they left the floor with a 17-point first half lead. One in-game tradition is the chant of “Let’s Go….Mountaineers” as one side says the beginning and the other says the end. It was half-hearted early on, then super loud by late in the game. I was thoroughly impressed when WVU’s lead shrunk to 6 or 7, the fans would clap and roar there team to not falter. The final minutes were quite loud, though because the arena is so cavernous, I wouldn’t call it deafening. Right after the final buzzer during a win is quite a tradition as there isn’t much time to celebrate (which is a little strange) because the lights go out and John Denver’s “Country Roads” plays. The Coliseum sings, students sway and goosebumps ensue for first timers. Most conference games are significant because it is the Big XII. Non-conference games are tamer, but still above average in terms of atmosphere across the NCAA Power 5 landscape. As for student section quality, the Mountaineer Maniacs are pretty good. They throw confetti after the first basket and have some organized chants. Lastly, be ready for the rifle that gets fired at the end of each half (it’s starting if you don’t know it’s coming)
Atmosphere Ranking: 11.5 out of 14
The Mountaineer mascot began appearing in the early 20th century and the tradition continues today with a student donning the buckskin uniform, coonskin hat and rifle. It is certainly a tremendous honor for each person…..West Virginia’s fiercest rival is the University of Pittsburgh in a game known as the Backyard Brawl. Conference realignment forced the series to go on hiatus until resuming in 2017 and it is back with a vengeance…..With Auburn in town, Bob Huggins held his annual Fish Fry fundraiser with Charles Barkley as a guest. It’s a tremendous event and $1.8 million was raised for cancer research and a Remember the Miners Scholars Program. Chuck was also at the game and got a nice ovation when they put his picture on the scoreboard…..Internet connection is not good in the building as I struggled to be able to check other game scores on my phone during TV timeouts.
The Mountaineers came out hot as they were shooting lights out in the first half (well over 50%) and the team led at halftime 45 – 29. Erik Stevenson led the way as he finished the game with 31 points, all of them important as Auburn made a comeback. Stevenson kept drilling big buckets late in the game. With the Mountaineers up by 6 and 38 seconds left with a Mountaineer at the line, it seemed over. However, a missed free throw was followed by an Auburn three and then they stole an ill-advised pass. Jaylin Williams missed the attempted three-pointer, but the Tigers had a few more chances. They got the ball with 6 seconds left and a chance to send the game to OT, but Wendell Green’s attempt fell short and the Mountaineers snagged another home win.