Best College Arena Atmosphere

January 18th, 2007
As part of their Student Spirit Week, ran an article on “favorite arena atmospheres.”


They had seven ESPN writers and broadcasters list, then writes a short explanation of their top five arenas in terms of best game atmosphere.  They described them as experts and I guess compared to the average fans I would concur.


So I decided to critique their picks and list my picks.


What are my credentials you might ask?  I have been to over 260 college basketball arenas for games and by the time you read this the number I have visited may be even higher.  While I am at those arenas I am actually recording and cataloging all the physical features of the arena and anything unique that adds to the atmosphere.


I am actually researching a book that I am writing on arenas, which explains why I am keeping such careful notes on each venue. 


So let’s take a look at what the experts picked and then I will give you the correct answers.


Well, actually there are no correct answers.  Everyone has his own perspective and criteria for rating college game atmospheres, which is why these endeavors are so fun.  So get out a pen, develop your own criteria and let’s see what your list looks like.


Here are the arenas the ESPN guys picked.


Jay Bilas 

Pat Forde

Fran Franschilla  

Doug Gottlieb




Big 5/Penn 




Michigan St




Iowa St

Oklahoma St  

Big 5/Penn    

New Mexico 

Oklahoma St





Andy Katz

Mark Schlabach

Kyle Whelliston













NC A & T

Missouri St



Big 5/Penn





Most of the picks are pretty good. Many of the picks show a bias for the arenas each expert has spent time in. There are a few picks that are off-the-wall.


Speaking of off-the-wall let’s start with Kyle Welliston’s picks, because they are so unique.  The first four I don’t have on my list.  In fact, North Carolina A & T is the only arena of all the arenas listed that I have not visited.


Leave it to Kyle to stump me.


For the record I have pulled their schedule and I will be going down there to catch a game in the next 10 days.


Let me explain Kyle, he is the only ESPN expert that I really know and have any type of relationship with.  He is a nut and that is why I like him, because I am a nut.


We e-mail or call occasionally.  Sometimes we cross paths on the road.  He is the mid-major expert at ESPN and he also has a very interesting web site of his own known as


Kyle spends his entire basketball season visiting the so-called mid-major schools.   So his schools are a product of what he sees.


I operate on the chill factor.  As I sit in an arena does the atmosphere send a chill down my spine?  Then if it does, how much chill does it send down my spine?


Here are the schools the experts listed along with the number of times each school was listed.  I have also listed the seating capacity, year it opened and my comments on each venue.


Arkansas--Bud Walton Arena (19,200)  It opened in 1993.  The Bud is big, comfortable and loud.  It is almost pristine inside.  It is used only for basketball, graduations and Wal*Mart Shareholder meetings.  One of the better modern venues.  A great college atmosphere when comfort meets tradition for the great fans that pack the place for games.  The Chill factor is good.


Big Five/Penn (3)--The Palestra (8700) It opened in 1927.  This is a basketball palace that is just dripping with basketball history.  Take a walk around the concourse and look at all the memorabilia from the Big Five from years gone by.  The fans sit on wooden bleachers and it gets very loud. The Palestra has character and tradition.  It is a neat place even when it is empty. The chill factor is incredibly high.  It was the site of the first NCAA Championship in 1939.


Butler--Hinkle Fieldhouse (11,043) It opened in 1928.  When they filmed the championship game in the movie Hoosiers in Hinkle it brought the arena into the consciousness of modern day sports fans.  It is just a wonderful place to catch a game.  If you watch an afternoon game on a sunny day, the sun comes down through the windows high up the walls and you might just think you are in heaven.  It doesn’t take many fans to get loud in historic Hinkle.  The chill factor is off the charts.


Duke (3)—Cameron Indoor Stadium (9314) It opened in 1940. Neither the bleachers or the seats are very comfortable, but boy attending a game at Cameron sure is fun.  The students are extremely entertaining and the place is loud.  The history and character are great too.  It sets the standard for college atmosphere.  The chill factor is great!  


Florida (2)—O’Connell Center (12,000)  It opened in 1980.  The fans are right on top of the court and they seem to go straight up.  The students can get crazy, they seem to set the tone for the great atmosphere.  The chill factor is good.  


Gonzaga--McCarthy Athletic Center (6000) It opened in 2004.  It is nothing fancy, but boy are the fans passionate.  Loud is not problem here, the fans keep the noise level on high the whole game.  The chill factor is pretty good.


Illinois--Assembly Hall (16,618) It opened in 1963.  There is orange everywhere.  The students are several rows deep in their courtside seats.  The student section is one of the largest and they set the tempo for the upbeat atmosphere.  And you can imagine how loud 16,000 fans can get?  The chill factor is pretty good.      


Indiana (2)—Assembly Hall (17,454) It opened in 1972.  It is loud and passionate like Indiana fans should be.  The fans in the front row bleachers are right up on the court. There is something special about it that I can’t put my finger on.  Maybe it is the ghost of Bobby Knight.  The upper decks seem to go straight up in the air.  The chill factor is good.


Iowa State—Hilton Coliseum (14,092) It opened in 1971.  The building itself will not give you chills it is pretty good, but not great. The fans can get so loud you can’t talk to the person next to you.  Chill factor is fair.


Kansas (4)—Allen Field (16,300) It opened in 1950.  The venue was listed the most times by our experts.  The arena is fun and it has a ton of history.  Allen has real character, it is certainly a unique basketball venue.  The fans are right down on the court and it gets loud.  Most of the seats are bleachers, which allow them to squeeze in 16,000 plus fans in a relatively small building.  The chill factor is sky high.


Kentucky (3)—Rupp Arena (23,000) It opened in 1976.  For a big venue it is actually a pretty good place to see a game.  The fans are down close to the court and they know how to make a lot of noise.  There is a sense of history and tradition in the building too.  The chill factor is good.   


Michigan State—Breslin Center (14,922) It opened in 1989.  It is a comfortable arena that gets the fans down close to the court.  The students are a big part of the action.  It gets very loud and intimidating.  The chill factor is pretty good.


Missouri State—Hammons Student Center (8846) It opened in 1976.  It is a good place to see some good college hoops.  The fans can get really loud for big games.  But it is lacking a strong chill factor.  The JQH Center will replace Hammons in 2008. 


New Mexico—The Pit (18,018) It opened in 1966.  A pretty neat arena, with a great design.  But the fans are what make this venue so good.  When they are packed in, it is loud and fun.  The chill factor is pretty good.


North Carolina A & T—Corbett Sports Center (6700)  Can’t comment on this one yet.


Oklahoma—Lloyd Noble Center (12,000) It opened in 1975.  It is a decent arena and when the house is packed it is a great college atmosphere.  The chill factor is fair and it depends on the fans, not the venue.


Oklahoma State (2)—Gallagher-Iba Arena (13,611) It opened in 1938.  The history of this venue adds to the chill factor.  The fans are close to the court and they are loud, loud and more loud.  There is real energy in that building.  The chill factor is incredible.


Southern Illinois—SIU Arena (10,000) It opened in 1964.  This is a 1960’s venue from top to bottom.  The fans are great, but the venue is just okay.  The chill factor is fair.


Syracuse—Carrier Dome (33,000) It opened in 1980.  For a football stadium, they do a great job of making it into a pretty good basketball arena.  It certainly can get loud.  But you really don’t get the chills that you get at other venues.  Chill factor is fair.


Western Kentucky—E. A. Diddle Arena (7500) It opened in 1963.  It a decent arena and I have not visited it since the $32 million renovation, which took out some seating and added luxury boxes.  When they are playing a big game it gets loud and it is a fun college basketball atmosphere.  The chill factor is fair.   


Wisconsin—Kohl Center (17,190) It opened in 1998.  One of the very best of the newer arenas.  The crowd is close to the court and they are loud.  You will see red from the playing floor to the last row. The chill factor is very good.


Valparaiso—Athletics-Recreation Center (5000) It opened in 1984.  It is a decent arena or maybe a gym  There is a certain charm to it   The ARC gets loud at the right times, but is not perpetually loud.  The chill factor is fair. 


That is a pretty good list, but lets look at a few good choices they left off.


Oregon—MacArthur Court (9708) It opened in 1926.  It is another one of those old gyms that is loaded with character, charm, history and tradition.  Oregon has more wins in this gym, than any other school has in their venue.  There are three seating levels that overlook the court, loaded with fans that are making noise the entire game.  It is a building that will give you chills even if there is no game being played.  The chill factor is off the charts   


Minnesota—Williams Arena (14,625) It opened in 1928.  Known as “The Barn” it has that unique raised floor that has the first row of fans looking at the action from knee level. The character, tradition and history make this an exciting building to just enter.  When the student section known as the “Barn Yard” gets going it can really get rocking.  The chill factor is very high.


Louisville—(18, 749) It opened in 1956. U of L has done a gone job of keeping the arena current.  The seats come down close to the court filled with basketball-crazed fans that can hake a heck of a lot of noise.  The building full of history and tradition.  The chill factor is good.  U of L will move into a new downtown arena in a few years.


Maryland—(17,950) It opened in 2002.  It is a beauty of a building.  It gets the fans right down to court-side.  The students can make a whole lot of  racket and sometimes they are little potty mouths.  But if you want a great atmosphere in a modern venue with passionate fans, you will get all that here.  The chill factor is good.


Okay now what you have all been waiting for……….my picks.






*Big Five/Penn


Just missed/honorable mention:



Oklahoma State




This list is not the best arena in terms of the building.  It is not the best fans, it is the best atmosphere and for that I will rely on the chills I get when I am at the game.