Thursday, February 6, 2020

NCAA Basketball Arena Nomenclature


Most sports travellers who chase NCAA basketball venues use the number 353 as their goal - one arena for each of the Division I men's schools. That number will rise to 357 next season with four more colleges jumping up to Division I basketball. For me, however, there are even more arenas to consider. Several schools have their women play at an on-campus gym, while the men use a much larger facility off campus. Marquette is a perfect example: the men play at Fiserv Forum, while the women remain on campus at Al McGuire Center, which has all the history for both programs. Last year I visited both and enjoyed the latter more as a college venue. Seton Hall is another: the women play at Walsh Gymnasium, while the men are almost always at the Prudential Center in Newark. I was fortunate to catch the men playing at Walsh a couple of years ago, so I won't need to revisit to see a women's game. There are 21 schools with separate facilities for women's basketball across the country and I include those on my list.

There are also 12 schools that split men's games between two arenas. Usually, this is an on-campus venue and a larger one nearby, such as Madison Square Garden for St. John’s and XL Center for UConn, while a few others actually use two different venues on campus, with Northern Arizona (Walkup Skydome, Rolle Activity Center) one example. When you count them all (357+21+12), you end up with 390 (thanks to Wikipedia for making this relatively easy). That is more than triple the number of venues in Club 123, and more than double the number found in minor league baseball, which is 160 at the moment. And that number will only grow as more schools transition to Division I.

So you are probably wondering if I am going to try to make this my next quest. As much as I would like to, I’m well past my traveling prime and no longer made of money and time. It is unlikely that I would be able to get to every one, and so this will never be an official SportsRoadTrips quest. It doesn't mean I'm not going to try to visit as many as possible, but I'm not going to go out of the way to do so. One of the problems is that schedules do not line up very often for schools in the same area, so I'd be flying all around the country to add just a couple of venues at a time. My current count is 84 (I'm excluding tournament venues where I have not seen the home team), leaving 306 to go. That's somewhere between 100 and 150 trips, assuming 2-3 venues per trip. As well, the season is relatively short, and most teams only have about 15 home games per season. So unless I win the lottery, or a wealthy benefactor pities me, that 390 will remain a dream.

Still, with the list of arenas in front of me, I thought it might be interesting in looking at their names and figure out which appellation is the most common. So I did a quick analysis and present it for your enjoyment.

The most popular type of venue is Center, with 157 on the list starting with Louisville's KFC Yum! Center with a capacity of 22,090, all the way down to G.B. Hodge Center in Spartanburg, SC, home of USC Upstate, which holds just 878.  Next up, there are 110 Arenas. Surprisingly, there are 3 venues that combine both of these terms: American Bank Center Arena in Corpus Christi, the Student Recreation Center Arena in Riverside, and the spectacularly commonly named Event Center Arena in San Jose. So 264 of the 390 (68%) have either Center or Arena in their name.

After that, the number drops quickly to 31, which is how many venues are Coliseums. Again, there is a double counter – the Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, home of the East Carolina Pirates.

Just below that is Gym and Gymnasium, which have 27 combined, with 6 preferring the shorter term. As we go further down the list, there are 17 Pavilions, 15 Halls, and 11 Fieldhouses (3 are actually Field House). There are two more double counters in here: Freedom Hall Civic Center (East Tennessee State) and Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion (Washington), which is also the longest at 47 characters.

The single digits include 7 Complexes, 5 Domes and 3 Courts. There are also 3 Forums, 2 of which double as NBA arenas (FedEx in Memphis, Fiserv in Milwaukee), with Boston College's Conte the other. There are 2 Spectrums (Cowan for Idaho and Smith for Utah State) and just 2 Stadiums, both of which include Indoor (Cameron for Duke and Jerry Richardson for Wofford).

That leaves 6 venues with unique descriptions: Madison Square Garden, The Palestra (Penn), Hornets Nest (Sacramento State), The Jungle (IUPUI women), Walter Pyramid (Long Beach State), and the William J. Nicks Building (Prairie View A&M).

So there you have it, the breakdown of all 390 Division I college basketball arena names. Keep this information handy when you need to stump an obnoxious college hoops fan.

Best,

Sean

Monday, February 3, 2020

Boom Town Derby Dames 124 at Sockeye Sallys 121 (WFTDA) - February 1, 2020


When I was a kid, roller derby was extremely popular, airing on weekends and making household names of skaters like Skinny Minnie Miller. It was a rough and tumble game that featured women skating on small, elevated tracks, and flying over the railings. It was more entertainment than sport, and lost popularity as wrestling, using the same formula, took hold. Roller derby still exists these days, and I have seen teams and games advertised on my travels, but I have never had the chance to watch one until now, in Alaska of all places.



Roller derby consists of leagues, and there are 455 leagues around the world, all under the auspices of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). Each league has several teams that might play each other over the season, or take on teams from nearby leagues. Rankings are maintained worldwide, and there seems to be tournaments held to declare champions, but clear documentation is difficult to find. In Anchorage, the league is known as Rage City, and I only found about them by checking Wikipedia for sports in Alaska. Rage City has a B team called Sockeye Sallys, who were hosting the Boom Town Derby Dames from Wasilla in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, about an hour from Anchorage.



The bout was being held at the O'Malley Sports Complex, a small collection of sports facilities that includes a trampoline park. Having driven over from Alaska Airlines Center, I arrived a bit late and was astounded at the number of cars in the parking lot. Were all these people here for roller derby? Well, not all, but most. It seems to be more popular than the college sports, with at least 600 people on hand {again, there is no game summary, so actual attendance is unknown). Tickets at the door were $15, but of course, there are no actual tickets, just a smiley face is written on your hand. One section is reserved for adults and requires ID as beer is served. The other section is for families and there were plenty of those too. The track was simply outlined on a basketball court with green tape (visible above). The benches nearest the track are labelled Suicide Seating and you have to be 18 or older to sit there, though I never saw any skater come close to hitting a fan.



Roller derby rules are simple. Each 15-member team has five skaters on the track: a jammer who wears a star on her helmet and who is the only one who can score points, three blockers, and a pivot, wearing a striped helmet, who blocks to start but can become a jammer if passed the star. Bouts consist of two 30-minute halves, with the clock running non-stop unless a time-out is called. Each half is comprised of several two-minute jams. The jam begins with both jammers trying to break free of their opposition blockers, who can use their hips, rear, and shoulders to block. The first jammer to succeed legally (without going out of bounds or committing a foul) is called the lead jammer and gets a point for each opposition member she passes on the next go around. The lead jammer can call off the jam at any time, and often does so after scoring points and before the trailing jammer has had a chance to reach the pack. There are penalties that require the offender to spend 30 seconds in the box, which gives quite an advantage to the other team.



There was a program with both rosters, and each skater is listed only by a nickname, which is either slightly risqué (HellaButt, Franny Panties), slightly violent (Lorelei Kill-More, Pain Maker Sally), or just odd (So Sorry..., Cornfed). Even the coaches and officials avoid real names; the clock guy is Time Lord, which makes sense at least.



The bout turned out to be the most exciting event of my weekend in Anchorage. Boom Town was losing 121-120 as the last jam began, but they managed to get the lead jammer and she skated past the four Sockeye blockers, ending the jam as the clock expired to give the Derby Dames the win. I have no idea how this impacts either team, but I really enjoyed the experience.



With 455 leagues around the world, I'll definitely keep my eye open for other events while traveling. New York's league is called Gotham Girls and they have eight teams, with one bout per month from March through June. There are leagues throughout the States, so if you are looking for something different, check out the WFTDA Leagues page and try to find a bout near you. Every league seems to be looking for officials and coaches as well, so if you want to get involved in a sport that doesn't demand too much of your time, this could be an ideal fit, and certainly give you something to talk about at your next party.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Seattle Pacific Falcons 49 at Alaska Anchorage Seawolves 69 (NCAA Women's Basketball, Division II, GNAC) - February 1, 2020


Having completed my quest to see a game in all 50 states the night before, I had a cornucopia of choice for how to spend my Saturday. Four Alaska Anchorage Seawolves teams were in action, starting with the skiers slaloming in the FIS Nor-Am Cup at Alyeska Resort, about 40 miles south. A mild snowfall the day before had left road conditions less than ideal, so I decided to stay local and focus on the evening, which saw hockey taking on Minnesota State in the second of a back-to-back at 5:00, while both women's and men's basketball had a doubleheader against Seattle Pacific, starting at 5:15 at Alaska Airlines Center. But as I was looking at other sports in the area, I came across Rage City Roller Derby, a local league that had a match at 7:00. That set the evening: I would watch women's hoops, and then decide whether to stay for the men or scoot over to the roller derby before heading back to the airport for my overnight flight back to Seattle.



Alaska Airlines Center was opened in 2014 to replace Sullivan Arena for basketball and volleyball. It is a beautiful arena, especially with the sun shining on a winter's day. You can leave your car in Parking Structure 2 or 3 across Wellness Drive. As the arena is right next to a medical facility, take care not to park in their surface lots; you will likely be towed. Tickets at the door were $15 for general admission for the DH, $5 more than if I had bought in advance. Reserved seats are the middle three sections on each sideline and are the same price, at least in advance, but I preferred to sit alone as I spend a lot of time cursing the officials under my breath. I don't know why they bother with reserved seats if the price is the same, just make the whole seating bowl GA and save on ushers.



Inside, there is a large atrium with several large posters highlighting Seawolf athletics. The main gym is to the left in the photo below, with an auxiliary gym to the right.



Along the floor, tiles representing achievements are inlaid. The Seawolves play in Division II (except for hockey and gymnastics) and are members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC). The conference is also home to Simon Fraser University, the only Canadian school to participate in the NCAA. Even the referees have the Canadian flag on one of their sleeves.



On one side of the atrium, you can see several trophies representing conference titles. The school does well in conference, but has not won a national title, with the women's hoops team falling to Lubbock Christian in the 2016 final their best achievement.



The same Seawolf Hall of Fame found at the Sports Complex is on the other side of the atrium. This one is more accessible and I spent a bit of time reading about the inductees.



The seating bowl is typical, with all sections facing the floor directly. There was no plan to insert a hockey rink here, so the venue is most suitable for basketball.



There is also a balcony but it is closed for these games. Overall capacity is 5,000 and with attendance at 1,042 for the women's game, there was no need to open the balcony. I found this out as I got off the elevator at the 3rd floor and was told by a helpful staff member, who let me take a shot of the atrium below. A carpeted running track encircles the balcony and looks to be available when the venue is not hosting an event.



Above the balcony on the fourth floor is the Varsity Sports Grill, a great pregame spot for dinner. Beer is only $7 and you can sit by the window and watch the game far below. It is soundproof, so you cannot hear the whistles or PA announcer, which is a bit disconcerting. I remained here until the first timeout before moving down.



One thing to note in the grill is the plaque honouring the Seawolves greatest win, when they beat eventual champion Michigan in December 1988. They are still talking about it to this day.



The scoreboard was separated into two parts for some reason, possibly to allow the sound coming out of the speakers to be heard.



Concessions were similar to what I had seen the night before, with the reindeer dog the option of choice for visitors who want to try something new.



Overall, Alaska Airlines Center might be the best Division II basketball arena out there (It is interesting that UAA might also have the worst Division I rink). I mentioned in the previous post that Alaska college athletics are in danger of being shut down, and if that happens, this venue could become a white elephant.



The Game

The Seawolf women have dominated the GNAC for years and are in the process of doing so again, coming in with an 10-1 record, while Seattle Pacific was 5-6. This was a mismatch from the start, and although the Falcons were within 4 points in the second quarter, UAA finished the half on a 19-3 run to make the second half a study in ugly basketball, helped not a whit by the referees who called far too many fouls for my liking.



Both teams shot a very poor 33.3%, but SPU turned it over an incredible 26 times as they lost 69-49 in a game that had me wondering how people expect women's basketball to grow in popularity. I did not want to sit through another game like that, so I rushed to my car and drove across town to get to the roller derby, about which I will write in the next post.



Best,

Sean

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks 7 at Alaska Anchorage Seawolves 1 (NCAA Hockey, WCHA) - January 31, 2020


One of my last remaining quests is to see a game in all 50 states and 10 provinces. Last year, I went to Wyoming and North Dakota to get to 49 states, and completed the Canadian portion with a WHL trip that saw games in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. That left just Alaska, which I planned to see in a couple of years when the Seattle NHL team made its debut. But then I discovered that I had miles on Alaska Airlines expiring early this year, which gave me a perfect excuse to get to the 49th state even earlier. I just had to find a time when both Alaska Anchorage hockey and basketball were home, and found precisely such an occasion on Super Bowl weekend. So I flew to Seattle, transferred, and a mere 12 hours after leaving my house in NYC, I was in Alaska. The approach took us over Cook Inlet, which was a bit icy.



After picking up the rental car and making a brief stop at my hotel, I headed over to the Seawolf Sports Complex, where the team moved this season after playing at Sullivan Arena since 1983. The best place to park is in the Engineering Parking Garage, which is connected to the rink by an overground pedestrian walkway known as "The Spine". This does prevent an exterior shot, and as you arrive from the inside, you might find the entrance rather understated.



There is a long single lobby with the ticket booth at the far end, where you will have to shell out $15 for a ticket, unless you are a student, in which case you will get in for free. You might be able to save a few bucks if you buy in advance or are a senior.



You can also pick up pocket schedules and the most impressive roster sheet I have ever seen, as it has all of the line combinations and defensive pairings, even including the NHL team logo if a player has been drafted. That's Nathan Smith, drafted by Winnipeg in the 3rd round in 2018. As an aside, 17 of the 21 Mavericks are American, while 13 of the 21 Seawolves are Canadian, with each team featuring two Europeans.



I chose a seat in Section A, as there is a single seat in each of its rows. To my immediate left was a plastic board, but it did not obstruct my view of that net. The shot below is looking the other way.



There are a number of interesting artworks in the lobby.  Below looks to be a drum of some sort, with Howl for the Home Team on it. This is the phrase used to cheer on the Seawolves, whose logo is clearly inspired by local art.



In fact, you can spot several Seawolf heads adorning the pillars along the lobby. The photo below shows one painted in the typical logo colours, but you can see others in the photo of the ticket booth above.



There is a quilt for the Great Alaska Shootout, a basketball tournament that was discontinued after the 2017 edition, as more and more schools opted to spend Thanksgiving in warmer climes. Dwayne Wade and Klay Thompson were tournament MVPs in the past.



The Seawolf Hall of Fame is located behind the net, in an area reserved for media. I was able to step in and take a quick shot, but it really doesn't do it justice. Observant readers will notice Mike Peluso and his mullet in the middle of the top row, he played here before going on to a decent career as an enforcer in the NHL, including a Stanley Cup with the Devils. Fittingly, tonight's attendance was 666.



Across the ice, there are posters made by local schoolkids for every player on the roster, a nice touch, although again, this area is not accessible to the general public.



The far wall also houses banners, though the team has not had much success over the years.



There is also a set of logos for past champions of the Hockey Classic, which also seems to have been discontinued.



In terms of seating, there are ten rows of benches over five sections, with no section having the same number of seats. Capacity is listed at 800, which must mean there are 150 standing room spots because according to the seating chart, there are only 650 seats.



Concessions include a reindeer dog (which is more like a sausage than a hot dog but worth trying) for $6, and Alaska-brewed craft beer for $9.



Overall, the Seawolf Sports Complex is really just a practice rink that has to double as a Division I hockey venue. Alaska college athletics is facing serious budget issues, and that is one of the reasons that the team returned to the Sports Complex this year. Although funding has been secured for the 2020-21 season, it is possible that the entire athletics department for both Anchorage and Fairbanks will be shut down sometime this decade unless a long-term solution can be found. I'm glad I didn't wait until 2021-22 to complete this quest, because without college sports, I don't know what I would travel that far to see. If you want to see Division I hockey in Alaska, I would suggest going next season to be sure, because the sign below may be in a museum rather than an ice rink after that.



The Game

Minnesota State-Mankato, ranked 3rd in the nation with a 17-3 conference record, were the visitors, led by goalie Dryden McKay (below), who was tops in the country with a 1.35 goals against average and an 0.865 win percentage. At 22, he is well past draft age, but I could see an NHL team taking a chance on him; the name certainly doesn't hurt. His dad is Canadian and was a goalie, so no surprise that he was named after Ken Dryden and is wearing the same number.



The Seawolves, meanwhile, were 4-13-3 in conference play and so I expected a blowout. But the Mavericks only managed a goal in the first, when Nick Rivera deflected home a point shot from Ian Scheid. Early in the second, Alaska's Jared Nash was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head, but Minnesota State could only manage a single power-play marker as Kristian Stead stood tall. It took the Seawolves nearly 15 minutes of the second to get a shot on McKay, but that seemed to wake the Mavericks up. They potted two in the last 90 seconds and three more in the first 3:34 of the third to end the suspense, and Stead's evening, as he was replaced by Brandon Perrone.



The only question was whether McKay would get the shutout and the answer, surprisingly, was no. The Seawolves scored with 4:02 remaining when Alex Frye knocked home a big rebound, which made the final 7-1.



The teams shook hands afterwards, although they had another game to play the next night. I did not attend that, choosing instead to see basketball, but Alaska had a 2-0 lead into the final minute of the game and gave up two goals, including the tying marker with one second left, while Minnesota State had the extra attacker. They were credited with the tie, with the win going to the Mavericks who scored in overtime.



Notes

One of the advantages of going through the Engineering Building is that you are actually in an active school campus, which is not usual for most games, where you go straight to the venue. It was cool to see students studying and relaxing, though I wanted to tell them to support their team.



The highlight though, was the display case filled with patents (above), as well as the 2016 National Championship banner in cyber defense. Sports fans get caught up in the silliness of athletics, when the real purpose of these institutions is to teach and create.



It would be tough for the university to lose its athletics teams, but as long as they can produce students capable of the above accomplishments, the state can be proud of their educational institutions.

Best,

Sean

Monday, January 27, 2020

BYU Cougars 82 at San Francisco Dons 83 (NCAA Basketball, West Coast) - January 25, 2020


After the official Club 123 meetup at Chase Center the night before, several members assembled on Saturday afternoon for another basketball game, this time at a much older and more enjoyable venue.
The University of San Francisco Dons were hosting BYU at War Memorial Gymnasium, which was opened in 1958, two years after the Dons had completed back-to-back championship seasons.



The venue is nicknamed "The Hilltop" because USF is on the summit of Lone Mountain, just a few blocks north of the Haight-Ashbury district. There are several bus routes that stop nearby, or you can walk from the Muni at Carl and Cole Streets, about a mile away. The front of the building is well preserved, with a repeating triangular awning over the main entrance. The box office is to the right here, and I was surprised to see that General Admission tickets were $30. As I said in the previous post, there's a lot of money in San Francisco, and it impacts everything.



Inside the main entrance, you will find a very narrow foyer that contains quite a bit of history, including a display on the 1951 Dons.



There are several plaques honouring past Legends of the Hilltop, including Pete Rozelle (a photo of him can be seen above) and Bill Russell, who was on those two championship teams.



More recently, Bill Cartwright played here and his plaque is new enough to point out that he coached the Osaka Evessa for one season in 2013, the year after I saw them in Okinawa.



The Dons also have won national titles in soccer, including one in 1966. In those days, smaller schools could compete but these days, Power Conference schools reign in nearly every sport.



You can walk in to the gym at floor level, but nor farther unless you have a lower level seat. If you are in GA, you will need to walk up the stairs to get to the benches there.



The gym is undergoing a series of renovations that are paid for by John and Susan Sobrato. One side of GA seating has been removed and will be replaced by the Sobrato Club. Wonderful, more space for rich people and less space for real fans.



One of the remaining GA sections is along the side with the cameras, which is where I sat (view below). There are just simple benches here and it does get crowded during the games as students show up well after tip off.



There is also a GA area behind one net, which takes a little longer to fill up, but by the midway point of the first half, it was full.



The view from here is quite good, as you are right on top of the action.



Above this section are banners for all schools in the West Coast Conference.



At the other end is a party area that was filled with fraternity brothers enjoying a reunion. Above this are the retired numbers.



This is not the only way that past stars are remembered. In the lower level, where all seats are reserved and cost $5-10 more than those in GA, the sections are given names rather than numbers. So you might find yourself in Smith (Phil) or Jones (K.C.) for example.



There are four video boards in each corner of the venue that are new for the 2019 season. They provide basic stats for the players on the floor, with each monitor focusing on just one team.



Capacity here is 3,005 and attendance was 3,006, though there were some empty seats in the lower level. There were seven of us in the Club 123 group, so we were responsible for putting them over the 3,000 mark.



Overall, I really enjoyed War Memorial Gymnasium. It is an old-style gym, at least for one more season, and has a good amount of history that harkens back to a simpler time in college sports. I also got to see an excellent game too.

The Game

The Cougars came in 15-6 (4-2 in WCC play) while the Dons were 14-7 (3-3). The game was tight early and tied at 20 before BYU went on a 20-9 run that allowed them to finish the first half with a 45-37 edge.



BYU extended that lead early in the second half, going up 54-40 (in recognition of a Canadian band no doubt) but then the Dons began an incredible comeback. They scored 9 in a row, and then TJ Haws of the Cougars committed a silly technical foul after the ball was stolen by Khalil Shabazz. Shabazz sank the two freebies, and after another Haws turnover, Remu Raitanen drained a 3 to tie things up. The Dons potted the next 7 points as well, making it a spectacular 21-0 run. The cheer team celebrated accordingly.



Later, the Dons led 77-67 with 2:48 to go, but the Cougars sank two quick threes, and added four more points after a layup from USF's Jamaree Bouyea. Up 79-77 with 17 seconds left, the Dons elected to foul Yoeli Childs, who shoots at a 56% clip from the line. The strategy worked as Childs missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and the Dons rebounded. This led to the final seconds being a series of fouls and free throws, with USF making all four of theirs. A buzzer-beating trey by BYU's Jake Toolson made the score closer than it was as San Francisco won a thriller 83-82.



This was a much more entertaining affair than the NBA game the night before. Mid-major college hoops is fast becoming my second favourite sport after minor league baseball.

Notes

This was my 97th NCAA hoops venue, but only 84 of those count towards the 390 total Division I arenas (which includes four schools joining next season plus women's only gyms). That means 306 to go.

Best,

Sean