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.
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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 a far from awe-inspiring menu. Popcorn chicken ($4.25), grilled chicken sandwich ($3.50), and slices of pizza ($4.50) are the highlights. I tried the pizza and it was one of the ugliest slices of pie I have ever seen in my life. The pepperoni was burnt to a crisp and the crust had overtaken the cheese. In short, it was not worth it, and not good.
Other options include the traditional hot dog ($3) or an order of fries ($2), but nothing they had to offer looked very good, so you may want to save your appetite for before or after the game. Pepsi products are on hand for $3.25 or $4.25 dependent on size. Overall, the entire menu seemed a bit overpriced.
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. Try to get a seat in the 100 level sections so that you can avoid this feeling of distance.
I've become a pretty big fan of 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. Another unique favorite is the Cajun fried potato salad, a favorite of many students.
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.
In fairness, I should mention that my visit to the NIU Convocation Center came during the winter break for the students. With that context, I still found the crowd to be rather pathetic. There were exactly 9 people in the student section, and their best move was silently crossing their arms in an "X" when a member of the Huskies shot a free throw.
There was no pep band to help fire up the crowd, and supplement the students. Consequently, the loudest factor in the arena on this particular night was the coaching staff of the opponents. I don't care what time of year it is, that just flat out should not happen.
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 rest room.
Northern Illinois students can get into any athletic contest for free, which is a great way to get the students involved. Tickets are only $10 for the lower bowl for the general public, and 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 8th grade or lower in age ($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.
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.
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