By Eric Fleming, Contributing Writer
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Major League Baseball fans became depressed at the rash of "cookie cutter" stadiums being built.
The Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies all played in vast, multipurpose ballparks, designed to host both baseball and football games. The same could be said of college basketball arenas, with many of them built with fan capacity a prime concern, rather than the aesthetics, design or atmosphere.
But never fear, for all of the old-time "barns" -- arenas with real atmosphere -- aren't gone just yet. There are still a handful left, and they are still among the best in the country. All either place fans close to the court, feature interesting architecture, or have funny quirks. Some of these courts host traditional powers, while others don't. Regardless, each is special in its own way and well worth a trip, if not to see the game, then at least to see the arena and to soak up its history.
Here are five of the greatest arenas in which to watch a college basketball game.
Phog Allen Fieldhouse -- University of Kansas
Allen Fieldhouse is a great arena for watching basketball partly because Kansas is almost always a top-tier team. Whether winning Big 8, Big 12 or NCAA titles, the Jayhawks always seem to contend. But Allen Fieldhouse also has some student traditions, which add to the pageantry and atmosphere. When the opposing team's lineup is introduced, Jayhawk fans often pull out copies of the student newspaper in a show of disdain. Throw in the old-style bleachers, the chants of "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" slowly building until tip-off, and you have a home-court advantage that can definitely be intimidating for visiting teams.
The Palestra -- University of Pennsylvania
The Palestra is home of the University of Pennsylvania basketball team. Unlike Kansas, which plays in the powerful Big 12, the Pennsylvania Quakers play in the less-illustrious Ivy League. In spite of this, the Palestra is a shrine when it comes to college basketball. Being in the heart of Philadelphia, it for many years hosted all games played by the Philadelphia 5 (Penn, St. Joseph's, Temple, LaSalle and Villanova), and has hosted more NCAA basketball games than any other American arena. The largest arena in the country when it was built, the Palestra is seen as the birthplace of basketball, a sentiment that doesn't seem too off the wall when one looks at the history made in this small building.
Williams Arena -- University of Minnesota
Another arena for a team that's had its share of ups and downs, Williams Arena is host to the University of Minnesota basketball team. One of the most jarring aspects of the arena is the floor, which is raised almost 2 feet above ground level. This puts the fans at knee level of the players, and also can rattle a first-time visitor to the building known as "The Barn," which is descriptive of this cavernous arena. Williams Arena, from 1950 until 1971, was the largest in the country, with a capacity of more than 18,000. That was lowered when the arena was split into the current configuration of Williams Arena for basketball and Mariucci Arena for hockey. For home Gopher games, almost 15,000 fans can pack into The Barn, giving the Gophers a strong home court advantage, even during the lean years.
McArthur Court -- University of Oregon
McArthur Court -- named after the first University of Oregon student body president, although often called Mac Court or The Pit -- is considered one of the loudest of all the Pac 10 arenas. One of the distinguishing characteristics of McArthur Court is the balcony, which hangs very near the floor, and the seating itself, which places all 9,000 rabid Ducks fans only feet from the action. Unfortunately, NCAA regulations may require a new building for the University of Oregon, as the small capacity threatens the Division I status. If and when McArthur Court hosts its last game, the country will have lost what Sporting News called "the best gym in America."
Cameron Indoor Stadium -- Duke University
Finally, there is Cameron Indoor Stadium. Seen more often than most other arenas across the country, Cameron Indoor Stadium is host to the Duke University Blue Devils, one of the top basketball programs in the country for the past 20 years. The Cameron Crazies, as the student section is known, contribute to the frenzy in the arena with choreographed cheers for the Duke players, chants, and taunts aimed at visiting players. One of the unique characteristics of Cameron Indoor Stadium actually is seen outside the stadium, on a section of ground known as Krzyzewskiville, where students line up in tents, often weeks before big games, in hopes of getting prime seating inside the arena. Cameron Indoor Stadium is truly one of the great arenas in the country.
Other top arenas include Indiana University's Assembly Hall, Oklahoma State's Gallager-Iba Arena, and the Dean Smith Dome at the University of North Carolina. All are great arenas in their own right, and well worth a visit if you find yourself in the neighborhoods.