DeKalb, home of Northern Illinois University, is an interesting place. It is located just 65 miles west of the heart of Chicago, but DeKalb feels like it is in an entirely different world. As you drive west from Chicago and go through the many western suburbs, you begin to approach farmland until you eventually reach DeKalb.
DeKalb has all of the feel of a small southern college town. NIU has perhaps become more known on a national scale in recent years due to the success of the football team, which played in the Orange Bowl game in 2013. The institution also field teams in other sports as a member of the Mid-American Conference.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams play in a very unique venue known as the Convocation Center. It's a large arena with seating that folds out from the walls. A track and field running surface surrounds the basketball court, and makes the space feel cavernous. It is perhaps one of the few venues in college basketball that allows you to walk laps while watching a game. With a full capacity of 10,000, the seating is probably less than half of that with the upper portion pushed back exposing the track.
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There's a little more offered at Northern Illinois basketball games than what you'll find at a football game, but still far from an awe-inspiring menu. Chicken tender baskets ($6), chicken sandwich ($5), and slices of pizza with plain cheese or sausage ($5) are the highlights. I tried the chicken sandwich and it is on par with fast food quality. You may want to consider eating pregame or postgame, but there's enough here to get you through the contest.
Other options include the traditional hot dog ($4), Polish sausage ($4), or an order of fries ($3). Pepsi products are on hand ($3.50) with bottles of water, coffee, and hot chocolate ($3). Overall, the entire menu seems a bit overpriced for the quality that you'll receive.
All of the seats in the Convo can be folded up or extended as necessary. This makes for a very agile venue, but it also means that the seats are less comfortable than what you would expect from most arenas.
There are two levels of seating that surround the basketball court. The level below the running track offers great views of the action, and feels extremely intimate. The seats above the running track feel really removed because of the wide space in between the two levels. The upper seats remain pushed back and unavailable for most games. This allows for a greater concentration of the crowd to be closer to the court, which is a good thing.
The crown jewel of this venue is the court design. Normally I am not a huge fan of overly designed basketball floors, but this one works well. The entire area inside the three point arc is plain wood; the rest of the floor however is an intimidating smoky black color with an imposing design at center court that includes the letters "NIU," and just the eyes and eyebrows of the husky above. This may be the best looking basketball court in the country.
As you approach the Convocation Center on Lincoln Highway you will pass the usual array of fast food and fast casual establishments. Another option well known to locals is Fatty's, which is found just down the road from the Convocation Center. If it's a nice day, you could definitely walk from Fatty's to the game. They have great burgers, and I highly recommend the Fatty Melt. If you are looking for a sandwich, the Beef Brisket Sandwich is also delicious. Another unique offering is the Cajun fried potato salad, a favorite of many students. Fatty's also has a good beer selection and daily drink specials.
In downtown DeKalb, another place I would highly recommend is Eduardo's for some delicious Mexican food, including margaritas and really good fajitas. There aren't a lot of international flavors to be found in DeKalb, but this is a nice option.
The venue begins to slowly fill as tip off approaches and by game time the seating bowl may be 80%-85% full. The student section consists of four sections behind the east basket, which is also where the pep band is located. The students are relatively noisy and into the game with organized chants during play. The team seems to get decent support from the community as a large amount of fans are families with young children and the parents are into the game, and not just there to get their kids out of the house.
It's easy to find the Convocation Center exiting off of I-88 on to Annie Glidden Road, turning on to Lincoln Highway. The illuminated white building stands out like a beacon in the night.
There's a large parking lot that surrounds the Convocation Center. Parking will cost you $3, which certainly isn't exorbitant, but when you are in need of butts in the seats as much as Northern Illinois is, it may be worth considering allowing free parking.
Concourses are wide, and there are no inclines to deal with, so the building is very wheelchair accessible. Bathrooms are large, so you shouldn't expect any lines, which means you don't have to miss out on any action just to beat the crowds to the restroom.
Northern Illinois students can get into any athletic contest for free, which is a great way to get the students involved. Tickets are only $12.50 for reserved seating which includes the $2.50 Ticketmaster fee if you are buying online. If you want to save that money you can purchase a reserved seat at the ticket window for $10, or $10.50 for general admission with those running $8 at the ticket window. If there is a large crowd, it is worth the extra money to get close to the action. The upper bowl will cost you $8 for a seat, unless you are aged 62 or older or in 8th grade or lower ($6).
The food is subpar and a bit overpriced (a bad combination). Parking will cost you $3, so you can expect to pay about $21 per person to experience Northern Illinois basketball, a price that still seems a bit too high for the overall experience.
A bonus point awarded for the play area set up for kids before the game. There's a basketball hoop set up as well as a large inflatable jumping area.
There are no retired jerseys hanging from the rafters, and the only significant banners are commemorating NCAA tournament appearances in 1982, 1991, and 1996.
An extra star and extra mention again for the basketball floor design. There are many over designed floors at all levels of basketball, but this floor design was done right.
Driving west in the dead of winter, away from the hubbub of Chicago, there's a sense of calm that overtakes you as you reach Dekalb, Illinois. That sense of serenity continues as you enter the NIU Convocation Center, home of Northern Illinois Huskies basketball.
It's a large arena with seating that folds out from the walls. A track and field running surface surrounds the basketball court, and makes the space feel cavernous. Add in an apathetic crowd and you're in for a night of uninspired basketball.
The convo is a very nice facility, however the product on the court and the coaching is not great. I fully agree with your review
Food & Beverage
I think that the food there is spoiled dorm food or fresh dog food, either way, it's pretty bad.
When you arrive at NIU's convo you will hear something that you wouldn't at any other arena, a pin drop. The lack of attendence is pitiful as I think they average about 3 students a game. The band adds a nice touch as they try to act like they know what's going on. It is quite hysterical when NIU gets fouled and they chant "Hey don't touch me, cuz I'm a Husky."
There's a lot of farm land by the convocation center....I mean a lot of farm land
When Barney and Friends Live at the convo out attends your basketball attendence, it kind of tells you something.
Not too hard to find amist all the farm land there. Parking is dirt cheap. You can arrive 5 minutes before game time and still get front court seats. (How many places can you say that about?)
Return on Investment
Chanting "Hey don't touch me, cuz I'm a Husky" is worth the price of admission. Don't expect too much more, because watching their basketball team may be as painful as getting a colonoscopy.
If watching fat college kids running up and down the court trying to win $100 is enjoyable for you, then you might think the extras here are worth it.
There isn't much to complain about when you come to the convocation center. Lately they have addressed some of the problems they ran into and with a new athletic director that actually cares, it is a turn around.
As for food, it is pretty similar to most places, but if you are a donor there is a special place that is reserved for you, and there is basically no wait. Along with that, there is special seating up in the club seating with buffet style amenities. There are also plans to make a bar.
The atmosphere and fans are getting a lot better than in the past. The review mentioned that students were not at the game, but that was during winter break so that was the reason. There are a few hounded students at the game, and there is the "Red Riot" a small but loud student section, nothing special but better than stated in the review.
The ROI is great because tickets are under $10 and free (After an athletic fee in tuition) to students.
The team, after the game, always comes and thanks the fans, and make it a point to thank everyone, so that is a big plus!
Overall, the stadium isn't the best, but it is a very good place to watch basketball.
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