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Roundtable: Ranking The Big Ten Arenas

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Read BTP’s chat about a recent Big Ten arena rankings list.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Early this week, BTPowerhouse’s own Thomas Beindit released a set of rankings for the various Big Ten basketball arenas. The list was published on Today’s U (you can read it here and here) and got some interesting reactions.

Overall, the rankings were based on a variety of factors including each arena’s history and design, its student sections, big game environment, and the consistency of its crowds among other factors. While nobody will likely agree with the list from top to bottom, it does make for some interesting discussions.

So in light of Beindit’s recent rankings, two members of the BTPowerhouse staff (Thomas Beindit and Jerome Scherwin) sat down and discussed the list, what went into the rankings, what seemed right, and what seemed wrong.

Big Ten Arena Rankings Discussion:

Thomas Beindit: Ok, first and foremost, let me get something out in the open. I did it on Twitter after my first set of Big Ten arena rankings came out on Monday and I’ll do it again here.

I hate your team more than anybody else and took it out on them in these rankings.

Good, now that we have that out of the way, I wanted to just throw out my generic logic here. When ranking the arenas, I used a combination of factors including the arena itself, the fan presence, whether that presence was consistent, the big game atmosphere, the student section, and the history of the arena. Additionally, my rankings were set as of today and not a generic measurement.

So, Jerome, do you think I missed anything there? Should I have weighed something differently or simply hated on different teams more?

Jerome Scherwin Jr.: I was going to start off by arguing that Penn State shouldn’t have -- couldn’t have -- been the 14th worst arena on this list. How could they be worse than Rutgers? HOW THOMAS? I understand your curtain argument (it’s quite damning), but it’s Penn State.

So I went to YouTube with every intention of shutting this down, Jon Taffer style. I went to the search bar and typed in “Penn State Basketball Student Section”. And do you know what I found?

The first video was a football puff piece. The second video is of the Orange Krush apparently failing to surprise Penn State fans for their annual away trip (not sure how a fan section fails in anything when they take up an entire sliver of a section and represent ¾ of the total noise in the Bryce Jordan Center). And the third video is of the wRECking Crew (the Women’s Volleyball team’s fan section).

That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Even if you throw them a bone and watch some of their highlight videos from the past few seasons, that arena is still a graveyard. So the hate seems right for the ol’ Nittany Lions… for now.

Where your hate has gone too far is on Illinois.

Why are they ranked lower than Nebrasketball and Iowa? I’m a Hawkeye alumni and a co-creator of the Hawks Nest and I can assure you that we could only dream of creating an atmosphere like the Orange Krush does. Why so much hate for the Krush and Assembly Hall… er… State Farm Center?

Beindit: Before I jump to Illinois, one quick thought on Penn State. It’s always tough to rank anybody at No. 14 out of 14, but it’s deserved in this case. In fact, I actually thought the gap was pretty massive between Rutgers and Penn State.

That might be infuriating for Nittany Lions fans to hear, but I think our current view of The RAC is flawed simply given how bad this team has been. In fact, if the crowds improved at all, I wouldn’t be opposed to moving them up a good bit. After all, The RAC is actually pretty loud when it’s at full strength. Unfortunately, with such a bad team, it’s too rare that the fans show up and are invested from the opening tip. So, in short, I think Penn State has a lot of ground to make up to move up on this list.

As far as Illinois goes, there’s no denying what the Orange Krush has done. If I was ranking student sections, they would be way closer to the top. However, more often than not, the general fanbase fails to show up in force.

Maybe I overrated consistency in my ratings (can totally understand if some disagree with this), but it seems like Assembly Hall/State Farm Center has really struggled to show up for the games against teams like Iowa, Minnesota, and Penn State. When there’s a major opponent (like Indiana) in town, it’s an outstanding environment, but until they get back to that game-to-game performance, I had to drop them on here.

As far as Iowa and Nebraska go, it was simply the consistency. Those arenas are great for just about any given game and Iowa has a solid big game atmosphere as well. Nebraska doesn’t have the extra gear that Illinois has, but seriously, how amazing is it that the Huskers at No. 11 in attendance and been irrelevant nationally for virtually all of the last two decades?

Scherwin Jr.: Shouts to Nebrasketball. Keep doing you, guys.

Going back to the Illini argument real quick, I feel like the argument for the rest of the “general fanbase” can be made for a lot of programs… including Iowa. I know that Hawkeye fans have had a rough time with this for a couple of years now. Shoot, if you went on Twitter at all this past year when Fran McCaffery had his guys looking like the best team in the Big Ten, you STILL would have seen a bunch of upset alumni from around the country that couldn’t wrap their mind around the “general fanbase” and their lack of enthusiasm. There are just so many, well, older folks close to the floor that #StaySitting no matter what was happening right in front of their face.

Adam Woodbury could’ve literally poked them in the eye, and I’m almost 77% sure that they would’ve just golf clapped him away.

With that said, isn’t the fan section the heartbeat to everything that goes on during the game? Shouldn’t their consistent output mean more in the grand scheme of things? Without the Izzone, or the Grateful Red, or the Maryland Flash Mobs, or the Krush, would those games even be close to the same?

Also, one more question for you, in terms of these rankings, what if we looked at these arenas as if we were a player or coach? What arenas scare you to play in? What arenas make you feel like you’re playing in summer league? With that in mind, would you change your rankings at all?

Beindit: Generally, I think your point about the student sections is a good and a fair one. There’s absolutely no denying that the student sections are going to be the fans fueling things in good or bad situations. They start the chants, reach the fever pitches, and keep others engaged.

However, from the games I’ve attended, the thing I’ve noticed is that the student section can pretty much never create a rocking environment alone. For better or worse, they need the general fanbase to get invested, stand up, and starting cheering.

To put this in perspective, I’ll bring you back to Michigan at MSU from February of 2015. For anyone who remembers, that game was on Super Bowl Sunday of 2015 when the Patriots faced the Seahawks. In Michigan, it was an absolute blizzard of epic proportions, which resulted in a ton of late arriving fans.

What’s important about the late arriving fans is that it split the crowd. The Izzone was there in full force (for a huge rivalry game), but the general fans didn’t arrive until much later. In other words, this was a perfect test case of the student section vs general fans argument.

However, despite how much we focus on student sections, that was one of the most underwhelming environments I’ve seen for a game of that significance. Things came around once the other fans got there and MSU pulled out the win, but for what’s generally one of the biggest games on the schedule, the crowd, frankly, wasn’t all that impressive. And I’m not trying to rip on MSU either. I’ve seen the same thing happen in other arenas too. Without the fanbase, the environments get very . . . meh.

So long story short, I think the student sections are vital in creating the atmosphere, but what separates those elite arenas from the rest is what the general fans bring to the table. I’m not going to argue there’s a huge gap between say an Iowa and an Illinois, but when the crowds are up and down at one, it’s not going to override a great student section for me.

As far as what arenas I would fear the most, it would have to be Assembly Hall (Indiana) and XFinity Center (Maryland). I actually ranked the Breslin and Kohl above XFinity on my list, but that had more to do with long-standing excellence and tradition than anything else. So to answer your question, yes. I definitely would reorder if that was the criteria.

But on an unrelated note, which arenas do you think stand the chance of moving up in the future? I talked about XFinity having a chance to move up to the top with a bit more history, but do you see anybody else having a chance?

Scherwin Jr.: Obviously I believe that Illinois can. I was in high school around the Chicago area during the Dee Brown/Luther Head/Deron Williams years and attended a few games during their heyday. The way the Krush and Assembly Hall embraced that team and pounced on whatever helpless victim walked through that tunnel was second to none. They have it in them to jump in the Top-4 with a little consistency on the floor.

I don’t know if Iowa has it in them to jump beyond Purdue or Maryland. At the end of the day, we are a football school with a wrestling problem. Basketball will always be important, but I’m not sure the Hawks Nest has the support from those “general fans” to get rowdy (outside of some horrible calls against the home team).

To bring this full circle, my number one, cop out choice would be Penn State; after all, there’s only one way to go. But there is no doubt that the fanbase is absolutely there, the recruits are finally coming (it’s crazy what happens when you start fishing around the hometown of the Fresh Prince) and they finally have a coach you can believe in.

It’s time to make Bryce Jordan Great Again.

The weird one I keep looking at is The Barnyard. Where do you stand with the future of Minnesota and Williams Arena?

Beindit: That’s actually a really good arena to hit on. From a historical and structural standpoint, I kind of felt guilty putting The Barn so low. I mean, how much time does the media spend before Minnesota broadcasts simply talking about the arena? It’s a great place to watch a college basketball game and it’s sad to see it so low.

But I’m with you (I think) regarding The Barn. If Minnesota can get back to playing quality basketball and start building the fan support, this is an arena that really can move much higher simply due to the arena’s unique aspects. After all, for any Big Ten hoops fan, The Barn has to be up there on your arena bucket list.

To jump on a final topic though. What did you think about me putting Value City Arena so low? The Buckeyes have dominated there recently, but the crowds have routinely been pretty mediocre. It’s had some nice showings, but more often than not, it feels more like a January-NBA game than a college arena.

Scherwin Jr.: This. All of this: “It feels like a January-NBA game”.

I don’t know if it’s the lights, or the logo’s, or the flooring, or the spacing but it just doesn’t feel as collegiately cozy as, say, The Barn or Breslin. The worst part is, I read right over them when I originally looked at your rankings. Then when I went back, I still looked over them.

Let’s just say, they aren’t on my bucket list of “Must See Venues” list.

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With that, let us know your thoughts on the arenas in the comments below!