By Branden Helms
From time to time, there will be posts about the men’s basketball team (and occasionally other sports) from another poster who is a good buddy of mine and a die-hard Maverick. In this case though, it is the Maverick Rambler who is typing up something that will be cross posted there. More on that when it happens.Before I get into the meat of this post, I just wanted to say thank you so much to Coach Cross and the UTA Athletic Department who supplied me and the aforementioned friend with tickets to UTA’s road game at the SEC’s Kentucky. They helped create a memorable road trip with a good friend to Lexington, Kentucky.
Part of the reason that I really wanted to go was there experience that I thought Rupp Arena would provide. While they don’t have a well-known and named student section like the Cameron Crazies at Duke or the attentive, active group at Kansas, there is an idea floating that Rupp is a great college basketball atmosphere. There is no doubt that students make any game more intense, intimidating and overall a better place for the home crowd.
In turn, the students elevate the experience for the other fans. That creates a great game environment. Say what you will about Texas Hall, and I would probably agree, but when I was a student-broadcaster, the games where the students packed the stage edge created one of the most exciting basketball atmospheres (at any level) I have ever been a part of, and I used to cover professional sports for a living and have been to hundreds of games in the area. I firmly believe had UTA played half their games every year at Texas Hall instead of playing more money games on the road early in the season, the school would have more than ~15 winning seasons out of 50+.
Conversely, when the students weren’t at The Hall, it was one of the more lamer experiences I have ever been a witness.
So maybe it is just me when I equate Kentucky’s winning tradition to an active student section, but I’d wager a bet that I am not the only one.
I left Rupp severely disappointed in the game experience. For a venue that is the host to a rich tradition and storied program, I was severely underwhelmed. The size of CPC would not work for UK (7,000 vs. 23,000+), but there is absolutely nothing else from a technical perspective that they have over UTA’s Taj Mahal (to steal Coach Cross’ phase). Their scoreboard lacked information and what was there was hard to read. There was no center court scoreboard. They lacked ribbon boards. The upper section was steep and bleacher seating. If the student section accounted for much more than 1% of the seating capacity, I would be shocked.
Now keep in mind several things when comparing the two. CPC opened in 2012, while Rupp began play in 1976. That alone makes a lot of difference. Rupp will also be undergoing continuing renovations in the future, so some of the deficiencies will be rectified. But in the end, I’d put CPC up against near any venue in the country, including the storied ACC programs or Arizona or Michigan, etc.
What I would not is the game experience. That is where those programs should and are far ahead of what we can do.
For example, the friend I went with also went to Kansas when the Mavs tipped off against the Jayhawks several years ago. Over the Christmas break, the students were seated and filled the section an hour or more before tipoff, according to his account.
At Rupp, 1/3 of the arena was filled with less than 30 minutes left and that was the same for the students. It really felt like I was at a Dallas Mavericks game. I wanted to leave that behind and experience a fan base that was into it the whole time. Half of the arena left with ten minutes left in the game. Hello DFW fans, just thought we went to Lexington instead.
The only time there was any noticeable feedback from the fans to the court was a cheer after a shot and the occasional boo at the refs for a call against the Wildcats. Other that that, it felt like the decorum one expects in a movie theater.
Turning that around to compare to UTA’s fan experience, there were a lot of similarities. The sound of 1,200 fans during Samford were near the same the 20,000+ at the UTA/Kentucky game. The UK fans just filled a much larger arena. When we pack the place, like we did against OU last year or UTSA in the CPC opener, we put that to shame. Unquestionably.
That is the advantage of playing in a more intimate space. UNT could pack 5,000 into the Super Pit and it feels empty. 2,000 in CPC feels just a hair below rocking.
I was there for the whole game against Kentucky. At no point did I feel the arena was rocking.
Part of that has to go to the game presentation. UTA and CPC do a tremendous job of making CPC fun, active and loud.
Now I will admit that UTA may not have drawn Kentucky’s A game for the fans. Maybe an SEC opponent, or high level non-conference team would have drawn KU’s top effort. Regardless, with 20,000 in the stands, my expectations were higher.
I can also say that given our seats, second highest row of the lower level under the balcony in the corner, we would not have gotten the same acoustic focus the players did. Their account of the game atmosphere could be different than mine. But I have had bad seats in other venues like the American Airlines Center in Dallas where the arena still sounded loud.
It would then be apropos to point out that CPC has no bad seats. Even the upper level has great sigh lines and sound. In fact, the only real negative I can say about the presentation is that the public address announcer can be hard to hear over the other audio noise in the speakers.
Folks, I just really can’t express enough just how much of a game changer CPC is for our athletic programs in general, and in the comparison to Rupp, the men’s program specifically. With the team achieving success the past few years, the last missing piece to turn it into a true home court advantage is the fans through the gate (I’m assuming Coach Cross keeps with the program). If/when the fans show consistently…watch out Gonzaga, Butler and VCU. The Mavs will be coming.
Branden Helms writes on all things related to UT Arlington athletics on The Maverick Rambler.
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