The North Carolina A & T Aggies play in the MEAC. What's a MEAC you may ask? It stands for the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference. It is a conference of historical black schools. They are only the 31st ranked in the RPI, but don't tell the fans of North Carolina A&T University, to them the home team Aggies are the NBA Champion 1993 Chicago Bulls. This isn't just a basketball game held in the Corbett Sports Center, it is an event.
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Nothing fancy here, just basic arena food. On the bright side, the prices are pretty reasonable. You can stuff your face and do it for not much money, plus the food is decent. It beats the heck out of the venues in Big East where my wallet gets emptied before my tummy gets full.
Hot dogs: $2, A good dog with a nice blend of spices and an average run-of-the-mill bun. Rating: A
Large popcorn: $4, Slightly warm, but salty with a slight hint of butter taste. Rating: B+
Nachos w/ cheese: $3, Average chips and slightly spicy cheese. Rating: B
Pepsi: 20-ounce bottle, $1.50
Well tonight's tale takes place at the 5,700-seat Corbett Sports Center, a very unremarkable basketball venue built in 1978. But just because the building is unremarkable, doesn't mean what happens in the building is unremarkable. In fact, this building has been host to a ton of good basketball.
For starters the Corbett Sports Center had an impressive 37 game winning streak from January 18, 1986 until November 30, 1988. Around that time the Aggies appeared in the NCAA Tournament seven straight times from 1981 through 1987. They even made a couple return appearances in 1994 and 1995. Since then, winning seasons have been few and far between, but someone forgot to tell the 4105 fans that came the night I attended to the Corbett Sports Center to see their beloved Aggies win.
The Aggies average over 4000 fans a game and that is far more than any other school in their conference. Those fans include the students standing at each end just 2-3 feet from the court. It is very intimidating to have fans that close.
Twice during the game there was an announcement to stay off the court and out of play. But tonight the students were well behaved and they stayed off the court.
Music is front and center at this venue. When the action stops the very good pep band swings into action. If it is not the band, then they crank up the rap music or sometimes some jazzy R and B music.
But rest assured it will not be quiet.
Now let me add I am not a fan of rap music, but gosh darn it, it works at the Corbett Sports Center. Maybe it is because of all the fans dancing in front of their seats. The stands start to shake and sway as the dance competition gets going. There is never a dull moment when the action stops on the court.
The PA announcer is a fellow named John Allen. He has a great voice, and the ability to say just the right thing, at the right time, using a minimum of words to do it.
At just the right time he will say, "Are there any Aggies in the House?" Of course, the fans get louder.
Allen must have been a fan of the old Gomer Pyle show because he did a great Sergeant Carter imitation when he said, "I can't HEAR you!"
Then it gets even louder again.
At the beginning of the evening he reminded the fans that A&T's Corbett Sports Center was chosen as the 14th best atmosphere in college. He said it as a reminder to the fans to keep the noise level up.
Never mind that he was referring to a fan poll from ESPN.com where fans who never went to most of the venues presented in the poll to be voted on just voted for their favorite schools.
But that is not the point. The point is that A&T takes tremendous pride in their program and the atmosphere in the gym, plus that everyone there was having a great time.
During the time outs the music plays on.
During one second half time out, they cranked up the song "Atomic Dog" by George Clinton. All eyes went up to the upper section aisle where a fraternity did a fancy dance in unison, while a lot of the fans especially the students danced a little themselves.
Another time out and the crowd is going nuts.
They played a song called Go Sit Down by Maceo Parker and of course everyone stood up and danced. There was a fraternity dancing in a mob on the upper aisle and there was one shirtless guy on anther guy's shoulders. As they were dancing the guys were all smacking the guy on the shoulders until he fell off. Of course, they caught him and everyone in the gym had a smile on their face.
This is not just a basketball game, it is an event and the fans are a big part of it.
The seating bowl is pretty simple, eight rows of plastic chair-backs for the lower seating area, then an upper seating area on all four sides that consists of bleacher seating. There is a walkway around the seating bowl between the upper and lower seating sections.
There was a very simple center-hung score board featuring the score, time, half and fouls.
There are a few typical fast food places close by but no sports bars, rib joints, steak houses or anything like that, that you could associate as being anywhere close to Corbett Sports Center. For decent food, you should to go into downtown Greensboro about 10 minutes away.
See above. Plus, the band was large and very good. The fans really get revved up when the band starts playing. You will have almost as much fun watching the band and fans, as the action on the court. The night I attended the Aggies lost but, the fans will go home after another loss, but they will be back again. After all this is North Carolina A&T and their games are among the most unique, interesting and fun games in all of college basketball.
There is a lot at the venue with free parking, there is also street parking and other lots close by. You should not have to walk more than a block or two after parking.
At just $10 for tickets, free parking and reasonable food prices, a fan can see a Division I college basketball game and eat for about $20. A ticket, parking, hot dog, large pop corn, nachos and a Pepsi will run $21.50. The Tums to handle the indigestion will be additional. That is pretty darn good in my book.
Extra points for being such a fun and unique college basketball experience, including friendly fans.
If you are anywhere close to Greensboro, NC during college basketball season and the Aggies are playing at home, pull off the highway and get into the Corbett Center. You will have a fun time.
*Photographs courtesy of North Carolina A&T Sports Information Department.
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