The Brick Breeden Fieldhouse/Max Worthington Arena was built in 1957 and is the home court for the Montana State University men's and women's basketball teams. The versatile dome is also home to MSU indoor track and field and hosts the annual MSU spring rodeo along with concerts, trade shows, graduations, high school tournaments, and numerous other events. The building is named after John "Brick" Breeden who was a member of Montana State's 1929 national champion basketball team known as the Golden Bobcats. Brick Breeden was also a long time basketball coach and athletic director at the school. The arena inside is named after Max Worthington, also a member of the Golden Bobcats as well as the football team. He served the school for many years as a coach, teacher, and administrator.
In 1957 the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse was a one of a kind structure, very ahead of its time. It was built at a time when Montana State was transitioning from a small land grant agricultural and engineering college into a major state university. The spacious building is good in a variety of different roles, but not ideal for any one purpose. As with anything ahead of its time, I believe designers have since learned lessons that if it were being built today would have changed the arena's configuration to make it better. That being said, with improvements made over the years, The Brick serves MSU, Bozeman, and all of Montana brilliantly as a gathering place for a wide variety of community events.
Numerous conference championship banners and even a national championship banner hanging from the roof are witness that MSU basketball has a long and storied history, but the team has fallen on hard times in the last decade and the student and fan interest has diminished. The men's basketball team last won a regular season Big Sky Conference title in 2002 and their last appearance in the NCAA tournament was in 1996. The MSU women's team has had more regular season success lately, but they have not been to an NCAA tournament since 1993.
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".
The concession stands behind each mezzanine provide typical ballpark fare, with nothing unique or extraordinary. Combo meals, including chips and a 32 oz soda (Pepsi products) feature a brat ($6.50) hotdog ($6.00), or nachos ($5.00). Since most basketball games are after dinner time, I like to snack on a Bobcat cookie ($2) which is an oatmeal and M&M monster cookie. As with most college owned venues, beer is not available.
Anyone with any interest in architecture or engineering will appreciate Worthington Arena's exposed ceiling. Graceful glulam beams arch up and connect to a compression ring at the center of the dome beyond a system of catwalks, lights, and apparatus. Buildings of this size rarely if ever use wooden structural members these days, but in 1957 it was state-of-the-art. The whole building is truly an architectural marvel.
The interior of Worthington Arena is a very dark blue. Lighting is directed to the court and the seating areas are kept darker. The upper level seating is all chairs and the floor level is folding bleachers with the exception of the center section of the south side which has chair backed booster seating going to and along the courtside.
A large four sided video scoreboard hangs over the center of the court. During timeouts and at halftime, a loop of game highlights runs on the video board. There are also smaller scoreboards suspended over each end of the court.
The student section is behind the team benches and behind the east basket. Unlike the booster side where the seating is adjacent to the court, most of the student section is behind the team benches, two rows of press tables, and a wide walking area. This gives the student section a somewhat detached feel from the action and makes Worthington Arena a rather non-intimidating venue for opposing teams. The seating rises at a relatively shallow angle which puts the fans farther away from the action than most modern arenas. The seating, walking areas, and concourses are comfortable and roomy so it's a good place for families with young kids and people who don't like to be crammed into a tight space.
There's a couple of giant inflatable bounce houses behind west end bleachers available for kids before the game and during halftime.
Bozeman is a classic university town. There's lots of interesting bars, restaurants, and shopping downtown on Main Street about a mile and half from the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. There's also a small business district right across 11th Street from the Fieldhouse including Spectators Sports Bar and Grill - a popular Bobcat hangout, the Storm Castle Cafe (breakfast and lunch), and I-Ho's Korean Grill. Colombo's Pizza and Pasta and the world famous Pickle Barrel sandwich shop are a short walk across campus on College Street.
If you're in Bozeman in the winter time, you're probably looking to do some skiing or some other winter sport. Bozeman is a winter wonderland with world class skiing close by. The local hill, frequented by MSU students, is Bridger Bowl, just 16 miles from Bozeman. Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin are a scenic 50 mile drive away. There are also groomed cross-country ski trails right in the city limits of Bozeman. Ice climbing, back country skiing, and ice fishing are just minutes away from campus up Hyalite Canyon.
MSU is usually near the top of the Big Sky Conference in attendance, but years of mediocrity have caused fan and student interest in MSU basketball to slip. Early season non-conference games are lightly attended and those that do show up are very mellow. You know there's something missing when you can clearly hear the coach shouting instructions to the players from anywhere in the arena. Crowds pick up for Big Sky Conference games, especially after Christmas break, but the annual game against arch rival the Montana Grizzlies has been the only game that comes close to selling out.
The pep band, located in the bleachers at the east end of the court generate some energy with their playing and by harassing the opposing team's free throw shooters. And the Bobcat mascot Champ works hard to entertain the crowd, and usually has a trail of kids following him/her around.
As the team improves the fan and student support should also improve and make the MSU home court more feared by opposing teams.
Bozeman has excellent airline access for a town of its size. The Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport is about 10 miles from campus and has daily direct flights from Salt Lake City, Denver, Seattle, and Minneapolis. Public transportation is limited, so if you're flying in it is best to rent a car, which will also allow you to explore the scenic and historic areas around Bozeman.
The Brick Breeden Fieldhouse is easy to find. The big dome is visible for miles around. The most direct route is South11th Avenue via West Main Street. All parking is free, and usually plentiful with lots on the north and south sides of the arena. The north lot, adjacent to Shroyer Gym and the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse fills up first, but there is more parking available across 11th Avenue nearer to the high rise dorms. The larger south entrance is adjacent to a paved lot reserved for boosters and a large gravel lot just beyond. The route from the gravel lot to the south entrance gets very slick and muddy if temperatures are above freezing so don't park there if you don't want dirty shoes.
There is a row of handicapped parking spaces near both the north and south entrances, but with basketball games attracting an older crowd these days, the spaces fill up fast so get there early if you need one.
There are plenty of restrooms in the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse that are kept clean and functional. The closest restrooms to the seating areas are underneath the upper level permanent seating.
An adult general admission ticket for a men's game is $12 which is on the low end for division one basketball, but with the supply of seats exceeding the demand MSU would have a hard time justifying higher prices. There are also often great ticket deals for early season non-conference games such as $4 tickets with the donation of a non-perishable food item for the local food bank, two for one deals, or buy one get one-free deals to get you into both men's and women's games that week. Even in the down times, a Bobcat basketball game is a great way to pass a couple of hours on a cold Bozeman evening.
A few more items that help make a trip to the Brick worthwhile:
The Golden Bobcats: The Montana State College men's basketball team from 1927 through 1929 had a 72-4 record and the 1928-29 team was declared national champions by the Helms Foundation (no NCAA tourney back then). The team averaged an astounding 63 points per game in an era where there was a center jump after every made basket and most teams scored in the 20's. They were one of the first teams in the country to employ a fast break. The Golden Bobcats memory is preserved in naming the building after two of its players, a photo and display about the team in the corridor leading to the north entrance/exit, and a national championship banner hanging from the west end of Worthington Arena.
The MSU women's team, led by coach Tricia Binford has steadily improved each season and are now regularly at the top of the Big Sky Conference standings. The team plays an exciting brand of ball and they are starting to generate a nice following among the Bobcat faithful. Ticket prices are cheaper for the women's games and there's a fun family atmosphere about them.
The architecture and history of the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse alone make it a venue worth visiting. It was quite visionary to build such a building at a time when it could have easily seated every man, woman, and child living Bozeman with plenty of room left over.
It's hard to think about Bozeman and not imagine the iconic dome of the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. The building has had so many memorable moments, whether it be a Bobcat basketball game, national championship rodeo, high school state championship, or a four minute indoor mile, in over a half century of existence. If you're in Bozeman and looking for something to do-check out what's happening at the Brick, because no doubt there's something going on. Whatever the event it's a fun and interesting place to visit.
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