Who has the best arena in the newly-revamped WAC? That is a debate that will go on for a while. This isn’t about fan bases or who sells out all the seats. It’s not about atmosphere or crazy student sections. It’s simply who, in my opinion at this time, has the best arenas around the WAC. I will admit, like I have on Twitter, that there will need to be further research and analysis. I hope to accomplish this by attending a game at each institution this season, COVID pending.
For the sake of this write-up, I will make a few things clear on what I am looking at. First is the size. Yes, the argument has been made on Twitter this weekend that size doesn’t matter. And while, in a sense, I tend to agree, if teams are able to fill or even semi-fill those larger arenas, it makes for a much higher home-court advantage. Second, aesthetics. Seat colors, multi-purpose or built solely for basketball, type of big screen, and so forth. As I haven’t been to all the arenas, I can’t use the bathroom locations, tunnels teams run out, and other things that make an arena even better.
Again, this article will be updated later on in the 2021-22 season. But, for now, this is what I have as we will start from the bottom and work our way to the top.
This will surprise people and that’s okay. GCU Arena comes in at No. 5 because I can’t stand that there is no Jumbotron hanging over center court. Sitting up on top where I sat while covering the NMSU/GCU series in 2020-21, I couldn’t see the video board they have playing on a wall in the Southwest corner of the arena. Yes, the seat colors match. And, students and fans are right on the floor on both sides.
At the south end, the bleachers are mobile in case of concerts or other services happening at the arena. The tunnels on the north side that lead to the court are solid. However, the visiting opponents’ tunnel, well, it’s non-existent because they come from a room behind those mobile bleachers. If it were enclosed, it would make it even better. Don’t ask me why but running onto the court is one of those things since I was a little boy that I cherish. Something about the crowd rising up, the band playing the fight song, and so forth.
I will say this, the facade of GCU Arena is pretty amazing. Glass windows from top to bottom so you can look out over the GCU campus. That was well-done. One of the nicer things about GCU Arena is it connects to the Jerry Colangelo Museum. Good stuff.
Capacity is 7,000 and GCU Arena was built in 2011.
Word to the wise GCU fans: remember this is not an article about atmosphere. That will come later.
4-CBU Events Center
I get told all the time by CBU sports information director Danny Cross that I am welcome any time to come down to Riverside. In 2021-22, I am making it a priority to get to the CBU campus and take in a game at the CBU Events Center. It holds a little less than GCU Arena at 5,050. But, for a new Division I program, that’s pretty solid. To put it mildly, the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane where top-ranked Gonzaga plays only holds 6,000.
Anyway, the reason the CBU Events Center is higher on this list is because of that Jumbotron. It makes a world of difference. At least that has been pointed out to me on Twitter at times over this past weekend. Fans are right on top of the players on four sides of the floor. And yes, one side of bleachers can be pushed back to hold graduation and other such events as needed. The seat colors are in unison of the Lancer navy blue. And there is a true tunnel in each corner of the arena which is different than at GCU.
And just look at this photo of the exterior of the CBU Events Center. Palm trees, the color of the sky, and the mystique of what inside awaiting.
3-William R. Johnson Coliseum
Yes, Stephen F. Austin fans will come at me for this. I get it. And as I have admitted on Twitter and in this article, this list is subject to change. At 7200-plus capacity, the WRJ Coliseum is the third largest arena in the newly-revamped WAC. Now, $26 million was put into the Coliseum and will be ready to play in beginning in the 2021-22 season.
According to Caleb Beames of KTRE, “there will be a new game day plaza for the entrance to the coliseum. Luxury seats have also been installed inside the arena that give fans premium seating above the new entrance tunnel.”
From what I have seen in photos, it almost looks like The Pit at New Mexico. There is one tunnel and fans enter from the top of the arena. The Jumbotron from images sent to me by SFA sports information director Kevin Meyer don’t show the renovations. When I travel to Nacodoches, I will get some updated ones. Either way, the purple seats all the way around seem a bit intimidating similar to GCU. Fans are right on top of the court and benches. And I am sure with the low roof, the decibel levels can be extreme. That is a slight difference from GCU Arena and CBU Events center where the roofs are a bit more elevated than what it appears like at SFA.
Looking forward to covering a game at WRJ Coliseum and potentially having SFA fans tell me how wrong I am without ever having taken in a game there.
2-Montagne Events Center
This is where it gets fishy. Initially I was going to put Montagne Events Center at the top of my list simply because it has the same color seats all the way around compared to the Pan Am Center. But, it also holds nearly 2,000-fewer people. At a capacity of 10,746, it is the second largest arena in the WAC. It needs some upgrades such as a new facade because it’s 37-years-old.
It’s one of the top-100 on-campus arenas in the country in terms of capacity at 80. From all the pictures I have seen, it looks like a true basketball facility. The bottom row of seats can be moved back to hold practices. It’s built similar to the WRJ Coliseum and Pan American Center in that it doesn’t have removable bleachers like the other two facilities on this list. It’s got a Jumbotron and it is simply a basketball arena.
Yes, the argument has been made that it’s in Beaumont which is awful. Or that it’s just bleh this or bleh that. I haven’t even been to Montagne Events Center so I can’t say one way or the other. But it gets the nod at two because of its size compared to WRJ. Remember, this isn’t about atmosphere at this time.
1-Pan American Center
The Pan Am, at this time, is my top arena in the WAC. Yes, it fits the culture of the state of New Mexico. But, the yellow seats. Sorry Aggie fans, I have had to deal with those at Utah Valley and it’s just not my cup of tea. The Aggies are the only ones in the WAC with the Crimson and Cream colors and thus all seats in the Pan Am should be Crimson.
The new floor at the Pan Am is legit. But let me be clear, the new floors at all the arenas around the WAC are game-changers for me. The tunnels at the Pan Am are in each corner. And one fun fact, I love that the teams have to cross each other coming out of the tunnels. That is chaos just waiting to happen. And the Pan Am Center has the largest seating capacity at 12,515.
Fans are right on top of the floor especially behind each basket. It’s almost like the seen in Hoosiers where Ollie has to shoot those free throws. The seats behind the basket at the Pan Am are probably the closest fans get to the floor in any arena.
People might unfollow WAC Hoops Digest on Twitter because of the disagreements that will come from this list. I get it. This article is to keep up talk of WAC Hoops throughout the offseason. I have only attended a game at one of these arenas so there is a lot to learn about all of these and the rest of the arenas around the WAC. COVID ruined three or four trips in 2020-21. I was going to Edinburg to catch a game at UTRGV Fieldhouse. Also had plans to get to Burns Arena in St. George but seemed like COVID was telling me something different.
Dixie State fans might give me grief because the Burns Arena is one of the top-notch facilities in the WAC. Jones Convocation Center is also at the top of the list even though Chicago State has struggled since joining the WAC. Abilene Christian is putting a ton of money into its facilities and for where it is located UTRGV Fieldhouse fits the Vaqueros very nicely. The UCCU Center is getting some upgrades so we will see how that changes things at Utah Valley. Seattle may have an argument when it plays at the newly updated Climate Pledge Arena. And the list can go on and on. But as of right now, August 22, 2021, these are my top-5 arenas in the WAC.