There is a reason Allen Fieldhouse labels itself as “The Best Home Court Advantage in College Basketball.” It’s because Allen Fieldhouse is the best home court advantage in college basketball.
With all due respect to Duke’s Cameron Indoor, Indiana’s Assembly Hall, Michigan State’s Breslin Center and any other venue you want to throw out there, including our own Rupp Arena, Allen Fieldhouse is the best environment in the sport. It makes Rupp feel like a funeral or a hungover Sunday morning at church — and I say that with love, Big Blue Nation.
I have now made two trips out to Lawrence to see the Jayhawks play at home and both times I was blown away by the insanity inside “The Phog.” Students surround the court on three of the four sides and they’re as rowdy as any students in America. It’s the way it should be in the college game: the loudest and most rambunctious sit the closest to the action.
Then again, at Kansas, students aren’t necessarily the loudest and most rambunctious in the stands. Everyone in the building is on their feet and making noise; from the middle-aged man sitting with his two kids, to the 65-year-old woman at the top of the bleachers with a turtleneck under her free t-shirt. There’s not a calm soul in sight.
This past weekend, the excitement in Allen was heightened with the 20th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in town, as you well know. Kansas saw a record crowd of students fighting to get a seat for the marquee showdown between two of college basketball’s most storied programs.
One arena employee told me she had never seen anything like it as we stared out the window at the impatient crowd prior to the game.
Once that impatient crowd was allowed inside, students sprinted toward the court’s first-come, first-serve general admission seating, ignoring the “WALK!” and “NO RUNNING!” pleas from arena personnel.
It did not take long for them to fill each end zone with well over an hour to spare before tip-off.
Meanwhile, I used my early arrival to tour the area and take it all in. I arrived almost three hours before tip, which is very unlike me, so I could share the scene on Periscope and SnapChat with everyone who couldn’t make the trip. (Because I’m a man of the people and I didn’t drive nine hours each way to be selfish with my findings.)
I began in the neighborhood surrounding Allen Fieldhouse, where the streets were lined with students, many of them tailgating in their front lawns. I was amazed to see an overwhelming amount of female students on my way in, dominating the male population at a 5-to-1 ratio, at least where I was. I wondered if KU had any male students at all.
One lawn had around 15-20 girls drinking from a keg and not a guy within two blocks either direction. Needless to say, I was very… we’ll say… ‘intrigued’ by what I was seeing and couldn’t believe such social settings exist in the world. I was quick to text everyone back home:
It may be time to look into grad school in the Midwest.
After fighting the urge to quit my job, buy a Kansas t-shirt, join the party and never go home, I made my way to the correctional facility that is Allen Fieldhouse.
The Fieldhouse turns 61 next month and it looks every bit of it. That’s kind of why it’s so awesome, but not as awesome as the Kentucky fans I found outside:
My first stop inside Allen was the Booth Family Hall of Athletics, a museum located in the concourse area of the arena. It is a 26,000 square-foot shrine to University of Kansas athletics, with a heavy emphasis on college basketball.
Tons of good SnapChat material in there, too.
And a place where you can search for great moments in Kansas history:
— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) January 30, 2016
The University of Kentucky even has a presence in the museum with this photo of a young Adolph Rupp. Rupp is a “special admittance” into the Hall.
Look at that ladykiller!
Reading all about James Naismith and the Morris twins worked up an appetite, so I headed toward the media room for a free meal.
On the menu: BBQ ribs and baked beans…
I took two bites, tossed it, then went to the court to watch Kentucky warm up and get ready for the game.
At that point the place was packed with fans watching both teams get some final shots up before tip. Tyler Ulis couldn’t miss, which was a telling sign of what was to come. After watching him hit shot after shot, I walked up to my seat in the bleachers as the teams headed back until game time.
Things got real with about 10 minutes on the clock, when Allen Fieldhouse broke out into the Rock Chalk, Jayhawk chant. It’s a really eerie chant, like being in an old monastery, not in arena about to host one of the biggest college basketball games of the season.
Isn’t this creepy?
The mood quickly changed from slow and haunting to complete mayhem when Kansas was introduced to the home crowd. It hit 120 decibels in there, if you’re to believe the meter on the video board. A jet takes off at 100 decibels.
Then came the tip.
Of course, Kansas went on to win the game in overtime in an instant classic. It was the closest thing you’ll ever see to a ‘moral victory’ for Kentucky. How they were able to stay composed in that environment, especially right out of the gate, is beyond me.
Alex Poythress said afterward, “It was crazy. Loudest atmosphere I’ve ever been in.”
I’m going to agree with him.
The Best Home Court Advantage in College Basketball indeed.