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Columnists | Message Board  | Basketball Arenas

By Bill Kintner

December 26th, 2005


College Basketball: Oregon's McArthur Court a Gem


Eugene, OR – On a cold, foggy night in Eugene, Oregon, fans stream into one of the oldest arenas in college basketball.   As they enter the arena with anticipation of some great college basketball and getting out of the cold, their eyes lit up and smiles abound.  The fans talk to each other as they climb the old stairs and make their way to their seats.


Tonight’s game matches the Santa Clara Broncos from the WAC in a pre-conference showdown with the hometown good guys, wearing green and white, the Oregon Ducks of the PAC 10.


But one of the major stars in tonight’s contest is McArthur Court.  The almost 79 year old home of the Ducks.  With a little over 1000 games contested within its walls, almost anyone who has visited, will testify to the uniqueness of this venue.    


It is hard to describe, but picture a triple-decked, that is………three decks above the floor seats, classically architectured pavilion.  They say from the outside, you can easily hear the roar of the crowd.  I want to point out that I am not sure “architectured” is a word.  But someone (the finger is pointed at Greg Walker, the  Duck’s basketball SID) in Oregon’s Sports Information Department, came up with the suspect word and it conveys an image that people understand.  


Tonight there are 7394 fans to witness this struggle of West Coast teams.  But during a conference game when the students are here, it is packed to the roof with the deafening screams of over 9000 boisterous fans.  The atmosphere is electric.  Overhead, the three balconies vibrate from the fans stomping their feet and screaming, throw in the pep band and it might seem like the structure might not hold up through the game.  But it always does, just as it had since it was built in 1926. 


That is what it is like to play in the second oldest venue in college basketball.  The oldest is Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym, which was built in 1926 and their first game was played in Rose Hill that year also.  McArthur Court, is better known to fans as “The Pit.”    There is probably no better place to play a college basketball game.  No opponent looks forward to playing in Mac Court.  Fans speak of it with reverence usually reserved for monuments and structures in our nation’s capital.


Mac Court is named after Clifton N. (Nat) McArthur, a student athlete and the first  student body president.  It is described as the classic crown jewel of Oregon’s athletic program.  It deserves to be mentioned in the same breath at the old NBA Boston Gardens, Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse, Minnesota’s Williams Arena, Philly’s Palestra and Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.


Over the year’s it has received all kinds of accolades.   According to a recent poll, McArthur Court was deemed as the  PAC 10 visiting team’s least favorite place to play.  In 2001, The Sporting News named it “the best gym in America,” and going back a few years, in 1995 Sports illustrated listed it as one of the 12 toughest places in the country to play at the collegiate level.


Of course, I have yet to bestow any honors on Mac Court.  I find it to be on par with William’s Arena and Hinkle Fieldhouse as a structure.  I think with the fans going crazy, it gets up close to the level of Cameron in terms of atmosphere.  So here goes folks, I officially name McArthur Court one of the Top 5 Venues in American in which to watch a college basketball game.


Part of the atmosphere is the fans.  They are an integral part of the ambience.  The students sit at courtside or more accurately stand at courtside.  The pep band sits at one end of the court.  As the fans file into Mac Court, the band is playing and the students are beginning to stir.  There is an anticipation in the air that makes the atmosphere almost tingling.


Although it was built in 1926, the first game was not played until January 14, 1927 when Oregon beat Williamette 38-10 and it has since undergone numerous modifications and upgrades.


The Associated Students of the University of Oregon decided to” tax ourselves to build what we want,” and their desires included an indoor basketball arena.  McArthur Court was thus paid for out of a $15 fee imposed by the ASUO.  During the depths of the depression, the mortgage was burned in a public ceremony after Mac Court was completely paid off.


Even with all the tradition, McArthur Court is a fairly modern facility.  The building has undergone more than five million dollars in renovations over the last decade.  Oregon installed the maple floor used in the 1990 Goodwill games in Seattle, which I might add, looks really sharp.


As great as McArthur Court is as a basketball venue and historical building, the university is looking to build a new arena.  It makes me sad to think that this grand building and link to a different era, will some day, no longer be used for basketball. I am told there are architects attending this game with the purpose of trying to find out what is so special about the design of this place that gives it so much charm.  They will be charged with designing a new arena that captures the charm of Mac Court, while at the same time adding the luxury suites, additional restrooms, concessions stands and other amenities that today’s fans expect.   I wish them good luck, because no other school has managed to do that with a new arena.  On the other hand, I am not sure how many have tried.


Back to the action on the court.   The Ducks pull out a 75-66 win over pesky Santa Clara.  During the game that saw the Broncos fight until the end, the fans minus most of the students, who are home on Christmas Break, made enough noise at time to prevent me from talking to the gentleman seated next to me.  It was a one point lead 27-26 for the Ducks at the half.   With a home court win, the fans leave Mac Court smiling and chatting about the just completed game.


As I write this, I am still seated at press row, an hour after the game has ended.  The cleaning crew is making good progress on cleaning up all the game garbage left by fans, including quite a bit left by me.


I am just enjoying sitting here looking around the gym.  They will turn out the lights in a few minutes and I may still be sitting here enjoying this unique basketball shrine and dreaming of all the great games played here over the years.   




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