Thursday, December 25, 2008

Super Arenas of the Atlantic 10

So when the conferences realigned in 2004 and 2005, the Atlantic 10 conference decided to do what all the cool kids were doing: Screw someone over. Due to the ACC stealing Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East in 2004 and following suit with BC in 2005, the Big East suddenly needed three new football programs to get their membership back up to eight (really the smallest a power conference can logically be for football). How did the Big East do this? By stealing Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati from Conference USA. That should have been where it ended, but it wasn't. For some reason, they brought in two other schools for non-football sports (even though the Big East is already massive for, say, basketball). They grabbed Marquette and DePaul, two very storied programs, away from C-USA just to rub some salt on the wound.
The A-10 apparently thought this seemed like a lot of fun, and invited Charlotte and Saint Louis from C-USA, increasing the number of teams playing hoops in the A-10 to 14, and leaving Memphis without any real conference competition (no offense to Houston and UAB).
One thing that St. Louis and Charlotte have brought to the A-10 are a couple of first-class facilities that bring the total number of high-end arenas in the A10 to eight. Six schools: George Washington, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph's, La Salle, Duquesne and Fordham basically play in glorified high school gymnasiums (though St. Joe's is renovating Alumni Fieldhouse, so we'll see how that goes). The schools that make the cut are, in reverse order:

#N/A: Saint Joe's: Temporarily at the Palestra
This one doesn't count, it just gives me a chance to talk about the Palestra. There are some venues that are timeless, and therefore can't be measured the same way as most other places. This is the perfect example of one of those places. The official home of Penn, the temporary home of Saint Joe's and the unofficial building of the Big Five, this place is appropriately referred to as "a basketball cathedral" by many. It is an icon in college hoops.

#8: Chaifetz Arena - Saint Louis University
The Billikens moved out of the Scottrade Center this season and into their own arena. And while it's always exciting for a school to ditch their dad's Porsche for their own Cadillac, I don't love this one. After the home opener, I went through photo galleries of the arena, and it really has nothing interesting about it. It's a cookie-cutter arena that is just one consistent deck of seats around the floor, with no suites or other especially interesting aspects to it.

#7: Robins Center - University of Richmond
Very similar looking to the previous venue, but with a permanent floor and some suites around the perimeter of the stands. Doesn't it just have a better feel to it?

#6: Halton Arena - University of North Carolina, Charlotte
It seems like forever since the 49ers were major players in the NCAA picture, but they do have a nice pad, and at least judging from their home game against UMass in 2007, they can still fill it up.

#5: Ryan Center - University of Rhode Island
Very cool arena, and it's more or less brand new. However, I have a few beefs with this place. First of all, the seats are spread way out so that even though the capacity is only about 7,600, it looks as big as some of the places on this list that are about 50% bigger. This means a lot of fans are a lot further from the action than they need to be. Secondly, I don't know about the big CVS decals on the floor. Not as tacky as, say, Texas Tech, which covered their floor in ads a couple years ago. But still, it's not the CVS Center.

#4: Mullins Center - University of Massachusetts
Yeah baby. And unlike my list of football venues, I'm actually serious about this one. Great place to catch a game, especially if BC or a big conference opponent is in town. The house that Marcus, Harper and Jon built.

#3: Liacouras Center - Temple University
The top three are really in a different league, meaning that this arena would suffice in the ACC. Fortunately, it's all ours. A lot of people probably saw it for the first time a couple weeks ago when Temple smacked Tennessee, providing pretty good evidence of what kind of home-court advantage the Owls have there.

#2: Cintas Center - Xavier University
The Muskies have been the most visible program in the A10 this decade, and they get some great support in this place. They actually lost at home last night to Butler... not good timing for my selfish purposes.

#1: UD Arena - University of Dayton
One of the top dozen or so facilities in college hoops. This place hosts the NCAA tournament play-in-game every year and often two rounds of the tournament itself. It's bigger and nicer than any other arenas in the league despite also being one of the oldest.

Probably no more entries for a while just due to the holidays. Hope everyone has a great Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or whatever else you may celebrate.

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