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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
In 1998, Oakland University joined the Mid-Continent Conference and the ranks of Division I basketball. The conference has since changed its name to the Summit League, where the Golden Grizzlies won three conference tournaments and secured berths into the NCAA Tournament in 2005, 2010, and 2011. In 2013, the team joined the competitive Horizon League, which is a great fit for Oakland and helps to develop the rivalry with the nearby Detroit Titans.
The Grizzlies play on campus at the Athletics Center O’rena. It is a perfect sized building for this program and a good place to watch college basketball. The venue opened with the transition to Division I in 1998. It seats just over 4,000 with chairback seating along the sidelines and plastic bleachers behind each basket. The venue is also home to the Oakland women’s basketball team and volleyball team.
The Grizzlies are led by head coach Greg Kampe, who has been the team’s head coach for more than three decades, making him the third most tenured coach in Division I college basketball (behind only Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski).
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".
It's an interesting set up for concessions at the O'rena. Since the concourse circles above the seats, you never lose your view of the action when you're up and about. The same goes for the two concessions stands. This is a real benefit, especially because lines can get long during the game or at halftime. If you're hungry, try to grab your grub early.
The prices are reasonable, but the selection is a bit lacking. I would recommend going for the kielbasa sausage ($3), which is very juicy, over the hot dog ($2) or Jet's pizza slice ($3.50). They do a silly thing with the pizza in that they wrap it in foil, which has the effect of peeling off the cheese and toppings when you open it up.
The snacks include popcorn ($2.50), soft pretzel ($2.75), and nachos ($3). Folks with a sweet tooth can opt for candy ($1.50) or donuts ($1). They also have a great ice cream selection of either Ben & Jerry's or Starbucks brand ice cream bars ($3).
Pepsi is the soda of choice ($3) with bottled water ($2.50), Gatorade ($2.50), and coffee ($1.50) also available. No alcoholic beverages are sold at the Athletics Center O'rena.
The determination of where to place the student section and pep band is an absolutely critical component to creating the right basketball atmosphere. A few years ago, Oakland placed their students directly behind the opponent's bench, and the pep band blasted them from the side. It was a fantastic one-two punch. Now, the band has been moved behind the basket in the northwest corner of the arena with the student section placed next to them. It still provides a good atmosphere, but it's not as effective as it once was.
That 20-member pep band is active starting as early as 45 minutes before the tip off, and they play often. A DJ has been added to the mix in front of the Grizz Gang (student section). You've got to love the jubilance that comes from a college pep band, and this one is very good for a school of this size.
There's no overhead scoreboard. Instead, there are four very basic scoreboards in each corner, and one large HD screen on the south end of the facility, providing highlights and the detailed statistics. It's a great modern touch and provides for a clean viewing of the game.
Black plastic bleachers can be found under each basket, and they are relatively comfortable. On the east side (behind the team benches) there are permanent chairback seats and drink holders, although the seats are a bit narrow. This is a good spot for taller and more slender spectators.
The opposite side is a foldable stand with seats that are without cup holders, and less than adequate leg room. If you are six feet tall or larger, then you can expect to have your knees pressed against the seat in front of you. If you're shorter, but would like more hip room, then the west side is the spot for you. The seats face straight ahead, so the view is a little awkward if you're away from center court.
My recommendation is to sit in section E4, where you get the best seating situation as well as the best view.
The mascot presentation has improved dramatically compared to just a few years ago. Grizz is active dancing with the students or making his way through the crowd to interact with fans young and old.
Oakland University is found in Rochester, Michigan, close to the Palace of Auburn Hills, home of the Detroit Pistons. It can make for a convenient NCAA/NBA doubleheader when the schedule allows.
Most of the options for bars or restaurants in the immediate vicinity are uninspiring chains. I'm a big fan of Jet's Pizza, just a couple of blocks away. Other predictable choices include BD's Mongolian Bar-B-Que, T.G.I. Friday's, Applebee's, or Romano's Macaroni Grill. Coach Kampe records his radio show at the nearby Red Ox Tavern. The Red Olive restaurant also comes recommended.
The student section is pretty good, but still needs a little more energy and bodies before they can be great. They are pretty late in arriving, and although their reserved section is small, they still don't quite fill it out. Known as the "Grizz Gang," this assembly needs to come earlier and in greater numbers, but in the meantime, they are a pretty imposing little group. During the most recent visit I made, the men's swim team came dressed in their "uniforms" to add a little extra energy.
There is one primary parking lot near the O'rena, which is mostly taken by donors. Parking is free throughout the campus, so just find one of the nearby lots and take the short walk through campus. Your best bet is the large parking lot outside Varner Hall (Lot 26). You'll need to drive through campus a ways, and signage for the O'rena is not great. If you see the grizzly bear statue, you've found the building.
You're only a couple of miles away from I-75, a major north/south thoroughfare. The size of the crowd is small enough that you should have no trouble getting in or out as long as you can wind your way through campus.
If you want to purchase tickets ahead of time, you have to go through TicketMaster, which is both an annoyance and an unnecessary extra cost of $2-$4 per ticket. Unless you expect the game to sell out (they occasionally get big programs here like Missouri and Michigan State over the years), then you can wait until you arrive at the game to get your ticket. Tickets cost $15 for center sideline seats, $12 for corner sideline seats, or $10 for general admission bleacher seats. I would recommend paying $15 only if you can find seats in section E4, otherwise, go for the cheaper option as you'll have a fine view in most cases. There are ushers stationed at most of the aisles, but they don't seem to regularly check tickets.
With free parking and very reasonable concession prices, you'll find your money to be well invested for this experience. The arena holds in sound well, and the Grizzlies typically will be competitive.
The murals on the walls of the concourse are a nice touch, with pictures of generations of athletes and coaches proudly displayed.
There are four retired numbers for the basketball program, including Scott Bittinger (#5), Rawle Marshall (#1), Keith Benson (#34), and Travis Bader (#3). Appropriately, Bader wore the number three as he ended his career with 504 three-point baskets, the most ever in the NCAA Division I.
One extra point for the long tenure and successful career of Greg Kampe. He's not only a great coach, but pretty entertaining in and of himself, especially as you see him do battle with the officials.
The more college basketball I see, the more I appreciate these small arenas that are focused on the basketball and set in a beautiful college atmosphere. It's an excellent mid-major facility. This is definitely one for you to see if you are living in the Detroit area, or are in town when the Golden Grizzlies play.
Member Review by paul
In 1998, Oakland University joined the Mid-Continent Conference and the ranks of Division I basketball. The conference has since changed its name to the Summit League, and the Golden Grizzlies are beginning to establish themselves as the league's top program.
Part of the reason for this growing success has to go to their home court, known as the O'rena. Like many arenas in the Summit League, the setting is small, but Oakland is doing a lot of things just right, making this a really good (and relatively unknown) college basketball experience.
3437 5 Points Drive
Auburn Hills, MI 48326
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