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Official Review by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
In the CIS most of the basketball facilities are fairly similar, built more for classroom and recreation functionality rather than spectator sports. Although CIS basketball is ridiculously underrated as a spectator sport, it can't be denied that it is not a significant drawer of revenue that necessitates the creation of huge arenas with a spectator first mentality. However, every once in awhile an ardent traveler will come across a facility that is truly unlike any other in its class. Sometimes all you have to do is pull back the giant purple curtain to find something that adds to the experience just because it is there.
Western University is located in the Southwestern Ontario city of London boasting over 35,000 undergraduate students. Although the Western is generally viewed as a football first institution, the Mustangs have done a solid job of building a top flight athletic department across programs. Not the least of these programs are the basketball Mustangs. Having had great success over time which includes 25 conference championships and one National Championship, the Mustangs can date their success all the way back to the 1920s. Home for the Mustangs is Alumni Hall, easily one of the most unique facilities in all of college basketball featuring a giant purple curtain. Most CIS basketball facilities are multi-use gymnasiums which were built for physical education classes on equal footing, if not more pressing focus than spectator sports. Built in 1966, Alumni Hall is different than the rest. More theatre than gymnasium, Alumni Hall offers a unique experience in college basketball, one that is worth pulling back the giant purple curtain and checking out.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Alumni Hall is definitely not known for its culinary experience.
There are very few food options at Alumni Hall. Temporary tables with students selling pizza, popcorn, cotton candy and soda are all that you will find here. There are also some soda machines in the concourse, but there is nothing that will blow your mind away. There is something for you to snack on here in an emergency, but your best bet is to find somewhere to eat before or after the game.
Alumni Hall offers a unique atmosphere among CIS facilities.
The exterior of Alumni Hall matches perfectly among the other buildings of Western University. The grey brick matches the surrounding academic buildings in a classic university manner. It is located at the main entrance of Western at the roundabout at Lambton Drive. Inside Alumni Hall patrons are greeted with a smart looking entrance that is dark brown and classy looking. Alumni Hall is more of a theatre, with a large stage and curtain with a basketball floor between the upper seating and stage. The concourse is on the northwest side of the building.
Upon entrance, patrons are greeted with the opportunity to see something special. The J.P. Metras Sports Museum is full of artifacts from various Mustang athletic teams and individuals. It is smartly decorated and Mustang fans could spend hours pouring over pictures and memorabilia. The concourse also features many pictures for those enshrined in the Mustangs Athletic Hall of Fame. The 1878 Societies display recognizes donors to the university in a classy manner.
Upon entering the seating area, fans are immediately struck with the uniqueness of Alumni Hall. The basketball court runs from southwest to northeast with all of the seating on the northwest side. Team benches and game operations are on the southeast side of the court and behind them is the stage and giant purple curtain. The remaining three walls are covered with wood paneling that attempts to have a classic look, but looks a little worse for wear. The northeast is where the players enter from which features a giant, inflated Mustangs logo. Above the court is a simple scoreboard which can retreat into the ceiling. Unfortunately, there are no banners or easily seen honours for the 25 Wilson Cups as conference champions, or the 1991 National Championship.
The in-game production is fairly simple at a Mustangs basketball game. A recording of the band playing the Mustangs fight song leads the players onto the floor, followed by the traditional Western horse whinney. Game operations are student-run. Hanging in front of the curtain is a large video board, which the Mustangs use with multiple camera angles. Students are used for ushers, event staff, camera operators and radio and video commentators.
The seating bowl is a tapered theatre setting. The seats are cushioned with barely enough leg room. The slope is such that people in front of you should not be an issue. However, like the wood paneling, the seats have seen better days and are in need of replacement. Seating is general admission, so finding a good seat should not be difficult for fans.
Alumni Hall is located fairly central in the Western campus. There are a few interesting places that you may want to get to.
The campus pub at Western is The Wave. If it is a place that you are considering then make sure you do your research and consider the limited hours that they are open. The Barakat Restaurant is located to the west of the arena on Western Road. If you head north of the arena, the best choices can be found. You may want to consider the Waltzing Weasel Pub or Beertown Public House.
The campus of Western is located northwest of downtown London. There are a number of other food options there, but you will also find some more hockey options, specifically the OHL's London Knights at Budweiser Gardens. Other sporting options on campus include Mustangs football at TD Stadium and Mustangs hockey at Thompson Arena. If you want to do some shopping, then check out Masonville Place, which is also close by.
There are a few places to stay around campus. Windermere Manor offers something a little out of the ordinary and may be worth a try. If you are looking for something a little more mainstream, then head downtown for a more recognizable chain.
Assessing fans for CIS basketball is extremely difficult. Teams often do not report game attendance and there are often significant fluctuations in attendance.
You can expect to see a few hundred fans in attendance for Western Mustangs basketball games. The attendance at the game for this review was over 325. It is difficult to compare this to other programs, but a few elite programs regularly draw closer to between 600 and 1,000. There is definitely room for improvement at Western and with a seating capacity of 1,200, there is room within Alumni Hall. Those fans that are in attendance are fairly reserved and quiet, but do get excited and vocal when the game dictates that.
Getting in and around Alumni Hall is not very difficult.
Alumni Hall is located on Lambton Road, right on the roundabout, pretty much the centre of the campus at Western University. Western's campus is located a fairly significant distance from highways 401 and 402, which would be the major arteries in and out of London. Western Road is a large road that moves fairly quickly, but if you are coming from out of town to Western, you will have to do some significant driving through the city.
Public transit is available that travels on Western Road and Sarnia Road. London Transit Commission buses stop right on the roundabout in front of Alumni Hall. Check out the LTC website for rates, schedules and maps if you are interested in public transit.
There is plenty of parking on Western's campus and unattended lots are free on the weekends. Probably the most convenient parking is in the large lot to the south of Alumni Hall that can be accessed from Huron Drive.
Getting around Alumni Hall is not a problem at all based on the number of fans that are usually in attendance. However, like much of Alumni Hall, washroom facilities are dated and in need of an upgrade.
Western Mustangs basketball provides good entertainment for very little investment.
Tickets for Mustangs basketball go for a mere $8 a person. There are also discounts for seniors, non-Western students and youth. Kids 5 and under are free. Combine the low ticket price with free parking and decent concession prices and you have a recipe for a very affordable brand of entertainment. CIS basketball is high calibre and fast paced. It is well worth your time.
An extra mark for Mustang Days. Mustang Days are a celebration of Mustang athletics with as many athletic events packed into one weekend as possible.
An extra mark for ample opportunity to pair Mustang hockey with Mustang basketball for an awesome CIS doubleheader for little money.
An extra mark for the display of Mustang history at Alumni Hall and specifically in the J.P. Metras Sports Museum.
Alumni Hall is a unique facility that plays as a great backdrop for university basketball. Although it is in need of a bit of a facelift, a Mustangs game at Alumni Hall will not disappoint. Take some time and pull back the giant purple curtain and check out what you are missing in London.
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1149 Western Rd.
London, ON N6G 5R8
1324 Adelaide St. N.
London, ON N5X 1J9