Behind Enemy Lines: Memorial Gymnasium

I’m hitting the road to cover the Cats’ SEC away games! As part of my adventure, I will rate each venue on atmosphere, food, crowd…you name it, I’ll rate it. I’ve come up with 20 criteria, each of which I will judge on a scale of 1 to 5 for a possible high score of 100. First up, Vanderbilt’s Memorial Coliseum.

I’m sick of writing about Memorial Gym. It’s weird, hot (no AC), and vaguely smells of feet. Which is exactly why I must power through and give the “venerable” arena the judgment it deserves. Let’s go!

Memorial Gymnasium
Built: 1952
Seating capacity: 14,316

Concessions: 3

Nothing out of the ordinary here, just your standard sporting event fare of Papa John’s, hot dogs, nachos, pretzels, and peanuts. And of course, popcorn. Aside from the normal concession stands, there are kiosks throughout for frozen lemonade and Dippin’ Dots which didn’t seem to get much play. Does anyone still eat Dippin’ Dots, by the way?

Popcorn: 4
One of my favorite foods is movie popcorn. I could seriously live off of the stuff. Sometimes, I’ve considered going to the theater just to buy it and then leave. Therefore, I will rank each venue’s popcorn for butter levels, saltiness, and greasiness. Vandy’s popcorn was salty and delicious, but not transcendent. Since it didn’t leave me wiping my hands every five seconds like some, I’ll give it a respectable four.

Signature food: 5

Every good venue has a signature food item. The Milwaukee Brewers have the bratwurst, the Reds the Skyline Cheese Coney, and the Padres the fish taco. Vandy had stands set up throughout the arena with homemade brownies and cookies for $2 each. The best part? They handed out free samples. You know I broke me off a piece of that.

Bathrooms: 3

Obviously I can only speak to the women’s bathrooms, and Vandy’s were decent. I was up in “Crow’s Nest” above the third level, and since there are no bathrooms on the third level, I had to go down to the second, but there were plenty of stalls. I wisely avoided the halftime rush, which is a rookie mistake for any sports fan. Public restrooms are a beast all their own, but I didn’t leave gagging, which in my view, is a win. They also get kudos for using automatic paper towel dispensers instead of hand dryers, which, while eco friendly, are the bane of my existence. Unless they’re the fancy Dyson ones, they simply don’t do the job. Right, Kige?

Scoreboard: 4.5

Vandy put in a brand new scoreboard over the summer, and I must say, it was impressive. It hung in the middle of the arena with a large jumbo tron screen on each side. The screens showed instant replays, promotions, and of course, the popular “kiss cam” crowd shots (more on that later). There was a ribbon board underneath the screens to display the score and stats, but in my opinion, they didn’t show the stats enough. I found myself searching for a player’s scoreboard like they have at Rupp and other venues, which is why I took off a half point. But, one thing is for certain: Vandy’s new scoreboard puts UK’s Big Bertha to shame.

PA System/announcer/music: 4

The PA announcer was fine, neither amazing nor super annoying. The music was an interesting mix of hardcore rap and bizarre contemporary easy listening that sounded like it came from Cal’s collection. But, there was enough to keep me chair boppin’ up in the Crow’s Nest, including some much-appreciated Jock Jams. The only exception was when they played the “Chicken Dance” during the Kids’ Cam segment…are we at a basketball game or a 1980’s wedding, people? Also, what does the Chicken Dance have to do with kids?

Fun stuff: 3

As I mentioned earlier, Vandy has a new scoreboard and they’re really proud of it. They used it for several things, including a “Kids Cam,” “Kiss Cam,” and the semi-insulting “Hair Cam,” in which they scanned the crowd and focused on the people with the wackiest hair. Sadly, Jon Hood didn’t make the trip, or his #lakehairdontcare would surely have beaten out the guy with the mohawk mullet in the Vandy band.

Pep band: 3

Nothing amazing, but they did have a fun version of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” which I always enjoy even if others don’t. I may be mistaken, but they even played Kentucky’s fight song once or twice, or something very similar to it.

Halftime show: 4

“Quick Change” was all I expected it to be and more. It was a magic show performed by a man and a woman who basically, changed their clothes very quickly. Their website describes it as “flashing costume transformations which happen in fractions of a second.” They’re a regular on the college basketball halftime circuit and have been featured on “America’s Got Talent” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” I was impressed.

Souvenirs: 2.5

As we’ve mentioned all week, Vandy handed out replicas of their SEC Tournament Championship ring to the first 1,000 people in the door. Haha, yes, Vandy, we get it. You beat us in the SEC Tournament and Kevin Stallings cried happy tears into his tacos. I looked at one and it wasn’t even a ring, just a poorly painted paperweight. I saw several Vandy fans examining theirs in the stands trying to decide if it was worth putting on their desks or not.

Ticket price: 4

According to Ticketmaster, you can get a ticket to a Vandy SEC game for only $29. Not bad. Or, for any game other than the Kentucky one, you can get one for $10 off a scalper outside.

Exterior: 3

They wanted it to look like an opera house. It doesn’t really, but it’s better than Rupp’s warehouse-esque facade. I’m not asking for the Sydney Opera House or anything, but a little more glass and a little less brick would have helped its cause.

Interior: 3.5

Much has been said about Vandy’s strange court, which was designed to resemble a stage. It’s cumbersome as a player or coach, but it does provide a unique viewing experience. The bunting to create a drop ceiling is a bit much, but I did like the giant floor-to-ceiling length player murals. They might want to cut back on the number of stars they use throughout…at times, it looks like a kid’s bedroom ceiling.

Flow: 1

This is where the opera house design went horribly wrong. In order to get to each concourse, you half to walk through a series of hallways that wind their way around the floor. It’s essentially a labyrinth that becomes gridlocked once the game is over. I was in the Crow’s Nest press box atop the third level and it took me and my fellow media members at least fifteen minutes to navigate from the top of the arena down to the court because of the cattle-esque crowd flow. There’s no real way to avoid this, unless you’re like Larry Vaught who left the press box with eight minutes left to get down to the media room to beat the rush.

Is this an office building or an arena?

Ushers: 4

Very nice people, but not as stately as Rupp’s ushers. Call me old-fashioned, but there’s something about those blue blazers that a “Guest Services” green polo can never match.

Press area: 2

I can only speak for the Crow’s Nest press box and the visitor’s media area, but it sucked. The Crow’s Nest was hot, hard to get to, and you literally had to perch on the end of your chair to see the entire floor. Also, not to sound like a total baby, but the visitor’s side of the Crow’s Nest didn’t have any bottled water, which combined with the fact that there is no air conditioning in Memorial Gym, made for a sweaty night. Proof it’s bad? Alan Cutler reportedly refuses to go up there anymore, presumably because there’s not proper ventilation for his flatulence. Once I got down to the media rooms near the court, it was much better. They were even begging us to take the leftover Cokes.

Is this a horror movie? No, it’s just the entrance to the Crow’s Nest.

Press meal: 4

I missed it, but apparently it was Chick-Fil-A. I won’t make that mistake again.

BBN Effect: 5

Blue definitely got in. The consensus in the press box was that this may have been the biggest showing of UK fans in Memorial in recent memory, including last year’s Gameday/Occupy Memorial turnout. As usual, Ashley Judd was in the house, and even peeked her head in during Cal’s press conference. The BBN represented, with several “Go Big Blue” chants throughout (I counted four). They even drowned out Vandy fan’s boos when the Cats took the floor. Towards the end of the game, Vandy’s crowd was loud, but the roar from the Kentucky contingent when Harrow sank that three with four minutes left was deafening.

Campus: 5

I give Vandy a lot of crap, but their campus is beautiful. It’s as green as the money that paid for it. Memorial Gym is located on the edge of campus next to the football and baseball stadiums. It’s surrounded by fraternities and sororities, which were just as quiet as you would imagine on a Thursday night at Vanderbilt.

Overall atmosphere: 4

Is Memorial Gym weird? Yes. Is it hot? Yes. Would I want it to be my home arena? No. But, is it a unique venue to watch basketball in? Definitely. Based on the sheer absurdity of the layout, and the alleged “Memorial Magic,” I’ll give it a solid four. A definite stop on any SEC fan’s bucket list.

Total score: 71.5/100

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

25 responses to “Behind Enemy Lines: Memorial Gymnasium”

  1. Biglaw Dawgin'

    Informative, honest, unbiased, and with a hint of humor. Superb as always, TT.

  2. Brett Myers

    Love the comment about there being too much brick…Because you know that in 1952 all the other universities were building modern areas with glass facades…No sense of history.

  3. Bonus Points

    Mrs. TT, shouldn’t Memorial get 4.5 bonus points for having your hotness in attendance? Bet you wish Musberger were announcing the game!

  4. Brent Musberger

    3. Katherine Webb has nothing on Mrs. TT.

  5. GoBlue

    Don’t make too much fun of Dippin’ Dots. It’s a Kentucky Company with Lexington roots.

  6. Will S

    My wife eats dippin dots and I make fun of her for it, then proceed to eat half the cup. To Memorial Gymnasium — good job, good effort?

  7. Bill

    Thanks Tyler, I look forward to these!

  8. Bonus Points

    4. I agree, TT is hotter than her now. But TT was even hotter before she put the “r” between the M&s in her name prefix. 😉

  9. Big Blue 66

    1. Vandys campus is nice, but you prob need to see more places to properly judge, no way its in the top echelon. Dippin Dots is manufactured in Paducah, and court should get a 0 for being ridiculous, arent there regulations that would force them to place the benches where they should be? If not, we should put Vandys bench in their locker room when they come to Rupp.

  10. BP in Tennessee

    You were too kind. I called it an “elitist craphole” on live radio down here in Nashville a couple hours ago & stand by that assessment. The flow is abysmal; rating it 1 was a gift. How’s that “Memorial Magic” working with the line of sight to shot clock’s Vandy? Good call with the campus, though. I do like the campus.

  11. Shot Clock

    You should have mentioned that they went the cheap route when they bought a shot clock.

  12. CatsRuleKY

    Nicely done Mrs. TT! I like this feature, looking forward to the other gym reports.

  13. Brandon

    #5 Actually Dippin Dots was invented by a student at Century High School in Ullin, Illinois, and the company headquarters was founded and is still in, Paducah, Kentucky, not Lexington FYI….

  14. Mr. Mofongo

    13) Please share more fun facts.

  15. Doug Heffernan

    Great assessment Tyler, however, I would subtract 20 points for the general douchebaggery of the fans in general, especially the students. Also, I think they have a banner up for NIT invitations. Not titles, invitations. Maybe you should add points for that out of pity.

  16. ciggy

    Very very nice feature, i look forward to more of these.

    well written as all hell too, nice job.

  17. Becky

    Great post Tyler, I definitely look forward to more of these. I was at the game last night, my first in Memorial. You’re pretty spot on here, although I do think I would take away several points for how hot and humid it was packed with a large group of UK fans way up in 3L. There was one thing I saw that I really liked – the Vandy players went through and high fived the fans as they left the court. I thought this was a nice touch on their part.

  18. Ratings

    You will now receive a rating of your ratings.

    Thoroughness- 5. You really went into detail. Like, really. I felt like I was there.

    Importance of categories- 3. No one cares about the press area and press meal, except maybe the press, which 99% of visitors are not.

    Food ratings- 5. I’m a dude. I like food. This makes me want you nude. (sorry TT, but it rhymed)

    Creativity- 5. I like this idee. I’ll be sure to check in after every road game.

    Overall: 18/20 or 90 out of 100, which is coincidentally the proportion of Vandy fans that I don’t like to the ones that I don’t hate.

  19. Ratings

    Almost, forgot.
    Grammar- 5. You’re grammar is phenomenal; our’s isn’t so well some times.

  20. Steve

    Ticketmaster charged $39.00 for a ticket and $10.00 other charges. Other Vandy games are $29.00 plus the crickets that will be in Memorial Gym when Ole Miss visits 1-15.

  21. harepi

    i too was at the game. miserable facility. once i got to my seat 3 rows from the top in 3f, i was not leaving til the game was over even i had to urinate where i was. was so hot, sweat was running down behind my ears. couldnt really see much because flags covered part of the scoreboard. the only replays were every time someone went past wiltcher to score. no restrooms on 3f, had to go down to 2f, a long haul. i have sat in the top of rupp before and it was nothing as bad as vandy.

  22. nassau65

    One of those fake rings/paperweights they gave out at the Vandy game is on ebay for 99.99.
    ummmmm it’s still there, no takers but 7 offers. wish i could see the offers, i bet they are at least .25

  23. tyrus

    I saw that quick change couple this year at a Bengals game. I give em a 4.

  24. dman

    Enjoyed the read TT. Good work!

  25. gentleman

    nice post, Tyler. It was well thought out and funny.