Contrary to what may be a national perception, the SEC does play basketball and does so in some very nice venues. Coleman Coliseum was opened in 1968 at a cost of $4.2MM, making it one of the oldest venues in the SEC. Today, it serves as home for both men’s basketball and the powerhouse women’s gymnastics teams.
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The food offerings at Coleman are nothing above standard and lean toward the expensive side. Dreamland BBQ Nachos ($8.50) are popular due to the famous name, but they lack the pizzazz of their famous restaurant's namesake. Two combos - chicken tenders and hamburgers - are offered for $8, and include fries. A small pizza ($7) and a pre-cooked stadium dog ($4.50) are also available, along with popcorn - $8 for a 'souvenir' version and $4 for a smaller bag. Drinks (Coke products) are also available, with a 32-ounce souvenir cup running $8 and a 20-ounce bottled water setting you back $4.50.
There are ample stands available on the concourse level, and you will occasionally see vendors making their way around the arena. All locations accept cash or debit cards.
Coleman Coliseum is unique in its design, with an arched roof that resembles an aircraft hangar. Although it can seat over 15,000 for basketball, it doesn't have the appearance of one of the modern-day arenas, giving it a surprising intimacy where the fans are on top of the action. The design of the roof and the fact the seats reach into all four upper corners give Coleman great acoustics that amplify the sound directly back onto the court creating a potentially loud and definite home court advantage - when the arena is full and the team is good - neither of which has happened much in the past several seasons.
All 15,000-plus seats are chair backs with ample room, and come with cup holders on the back to be used by the fans sitting in the row behind. The lighting is somewhat dim, given the arena itself has no glass walls which allow light in from the outside, save for a small amount visible on one side. Spotlights more than sufficiently illuminate the court, although the seats in the upper corners appear to be in the dark, much like being a movie theater. A modern, gondola-type scoreboard hangs above mid-court keeping fans abreast of all pertinent game information. Flat scoreboards atop the stands behind each baseline also provide score, game clock, point totals and fouls for all players in the game.
Known predominantly for its legendary football program, Alabama has a surprisingly impressive basketball history as well - although there are no mementos of past glory anywhere in the arena that are accessible to the public. Despite seven SEC championships, six SEC tournament titles and 20 NCAA appearances - (20-19 overall record, including an impressive eight Sweet 16s and one Elite 8) - you will not find one banner commemorating those teams hanging from the rafters, nor one trophy proudly displayed within the arena. (Nor will you find any mention of the women's gymnastics' six NCAA titles anywhere in the building.)
The Alabama campus is above average in passing the eye test, with lots of trees and some traditional southern architecture. It is, however, bound by the local topography, which is flat and there are no mountain, river or lake views to be seen. It is also quite spread out, making it difficult to navigate end to end on foot. There are, however, some must-sees if you're making your first visit to the Capstone.
The center of campus is called The Quad, and in its center is Denny Chimes, a 115-foot tall bell tower whose base is surrounded with the Walk of Fame where, since 1948, each Crimson Tide football captain has had their hand and feet imprinted in the cement. Dominating the skyline is the centerpiece of the campus, 101,000-seat Bryant Denny Stadium. Just outside the main entrance of Coleman Coliseum is Sewell-Thomas Stadium, home of Alabama baseball and directly across from there sits the Paul W. Bryant Museum, which houses some of college football's most historic memorabilia.
Unless you are on campus when the Tide is home on a football Saturday, the food options are limited. Your best bet for grub is to head to an area called The Strip or venture back to McFarland where any type of cuisine awaits. If you have the time, however, a trip to the original Dreamland BBQ, located about 10 minutes from campus, is always a good choice.
As with most fan bases, students provide much of the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) at sporting events, and this is particularly the case in basketball. There are legendary stories of students waiting hours and even days outside the arena (think Duke, Kansas, UNC, Indiana, Syracuse, Kentucky, etc.) for the opportunity to get the best seats in a crammed student section. As is the case with many SEC schools, that doesn't appear to be the case at Alabama. On this day, despite the opponent being their most bitter rival, Auburn, and school still being in session, student attendance was woefully sparse even 15 minutes prior to tipoff. Despite the best efforts of the cheerleaders and a persistent pep band, crowd response was fairly benign. During the game as the Tide began to pull away the enthusiasm picked up, particularly on some breakaway dunks, but on this day the overall energy from the crowd was lacking.
When over 100,000 fans gather in one spot as for a football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, you have to plan accordingly; however, for basketball, traffic is not usually an issue. The easiest and most direct way to access the campus is from I-20/59. Take Exit 73 and turn north on McFarland Avenue (US Highway 82). After traveling approximately three miles, you will go under and loop back around onto University Avenue. At the second traffic light, merge onto Paul W. Bryant Drive, travel about a mile and Coleman Coliseum is clearly visible on the left. As you approach, there will be plenty of traffic information and a heavy police presence directing you where to park. The main lot is reserved for those with parking permits; however, for $5 you can park in one of the lots across the street. If you are up for a bit of a walk, you can park for free at the Law School, located less than a mile up from Coleman Coliseum.
Tickets are reasonably affordable, with adult prices running $14 for non-conference and $20 for SEC games. There are no extras for 'premium' games, such as Kentucky or Florida. Youth tickets are offered for $8/$10 respectively, with youth being defined as 18 and under - a nice touch that allows for kids up through high school to get in for a discounted price. An additional three dollars per ticket in fees are added if you order via the university web site. Food prices are on the high side, but you can park for free if you're willing to walk a bit, making the overall cost manageable.
It's hard to give any extras to an arena where there are no banners, trophies or mementos paying homage to your teams' rich history, but there is a decent kids area in the concourse, complete with the requisite bouncy-castle, to keep the little ones entertained in the event the basketball happening in the arena doesn't. There are also a lot of contests during timeouts where fans are drawn from the stands to win an assortment of minor prizes. At the major entrances to the arena, fans can pick up free team posters, and there is a decent souvenir shop selling all different types of Crimson Tide-logoed items.
It's common knowledge that in the SEC - outside the borders of Kentucky - basketball primarily serves as a bridge between bowl season and spring football practice. That is particularly true at Alabama, where the basketball team is in a constant fight for relevance and attention from the fan base. When the team is not winning on a consistent basis, even though the team plays in an historic arena that can rock when it's filled, lately the game experience for Alabama basketball has been lacking, compared to other hoop hotbeds around the country.
Food and Beverage:
Food is above average at Coleman. There are four main concession stands in each corner, and about four smaller ones. The main stands sell the typical gameday meal: hotdogs, popcorn ect. However there is a taste of local fare in the Dreamland Nachos. Though they might sound unappealing at first, they are the absolutely amazing. Also located in Coleman is a Moe's. The menu is much smaller than a regular Moe's but still offers the typical items. Coca Cola products are served at Coleman. Like most NCAA arenas, alcohol is not served.
Alabama's main sport is football, but when they are winning, they consistently sell out Coleman Coliseum. The overall atmosphere is okay, but nothing exceptional.
Coleman Coliseum is located on campus. So, there is nothing within immediate walking distance to do or eat, but Tuscaloosa has numerous places about a mile away. However, located across the street is the Paul W. Bryant Museum which houses trophies won by the football team. If you are a sports fan at all, check it out.
Most of the people who come to the games are students and people from Tuscaloosa, most of the being alumni. There isn't a statewide basketball fan base that regularly comes to the games. In reality, all we really care about is football, but students and alumni come just to support their school.
The Coliseum is located on Paul W. Bryant Drive, which runs directly onto University Boulevard, the main street on campus. There is a huge parking lot located right by the Coliseum, but unless you have a pass (which is for high paying boosters only) you can't park there. You will be directed to the Moody Music Building parking lot, or the soccer fields. Buses run to both locations, but it is a relatively easy walk.
Personally, I wouldn't come from across the country just to visit Coleman Coliseum. But if you're in town and there's a game, it could be a nice outing. However, if you really want to understand UA sports, come to a football game.
In the heart of the football-crazed city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is one of the oldest and most prestigious basketball arenas in the SEC. Coleman Coliseum was opened in 1968 and is the home to a University of Alabama basketball program that ranks 31st all-time in the NCAA in wins.
While the Crimson Tide has never won a national title, they have a solid history in basketball despite being in the shadow of their football counterparts at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Coleman Coliseum seats 15,316 people and hosts Alabama Men’s and Women’s Basketball and Alabama Gymnastics.
Just the building alone is a fine basketball arena. Bear Bryant had it built and it has stood the test of time, with 15,000 individual seats with good sight lines. Other than the building, there is nothing great about this place. It has been spruced up recently.
Here are a few updates since the last official review -
Fans: The Crimson Tide have been much better this year than in past years, and fan enthusiasm has followed. There have been multiple sellouts and the students have filled their section.
Access: The website uagameday.com is useful for finding where you can park.
Extras: Banners have been added for both the men's basketball program and for the gymnastics program. Displays of conference and national championships can also now be seen throughout the concourse. For most games, there is another Alabama team (baseball, gymnastics, etc.) signing autographed posters on the concourse.
Anybody who knows about Alabama Sports knows it is football first on Saturdays in the fall and one Saturday in April (A-Day Game). However it isn't about football with the athletic program, as Alabama has success in baseball, softball, golf, and gymnastics. One thing missing is the basketball program, which has been somewhat mediocre as of late.
However, while a Saturday in January and February in T-Town isn't like a Saturday in the fall, Alabama can still have a jumping area when SEC basketball comes to town (especially Kentucky). The place can hop, even if Kentucky blew out Alabama. And if Avery Johnson can turn the program around, Alabama can be a nice college basketball town (for if anything to pass the time until September).
The Positives: Getting there is fairly easy. Take I-20/59 to McFarland Avenue. Drive down to the campus and you can find a free parking spot near the baseball stadium, which is close by to Coleman. The food, while not overly varied, is delicious with Dreamland BBQ Nachos and the Big Al Burger (and it is big). The place is set up uniquely as you felt like you are in a classic auditorium with the arc ceiling and the high seats at the top. Yet you still felt like you were at a basketball game. The place is very clean, on the inside and out (despite some construction from the baseball stadium being renovated). Last, the fans for Alabama came out in droves (you still had Kentucky fans in a good moderation, but not as many as I thought). They were supportive, into the game, friendly, and knowledgeable. Most stayed until the end of the game even though Kentucky had blown them out and were LOUD throughout.
Negatives: Some seats were very high even for basketball and others had overhang issues from the facade on one side (baseline), the food although it was good were pricey (nachos & burger cost $9) and rivaled NBA prices. The scoreboard above was fine and crisp, but the ones off to the side keeping score, you couldn't tell the names of the players and relied on the jersey number. In other words that was too small for the venue Alabama had.
OVERALL: I wouldn't say going to Coleman Coliseum is a must like you should for Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Dean Dome, or Allen Fieldhouse. However, if you are in Tuscaloosa and have a day to spare and Alabama is playing, take a venture. It is pretty neat.
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