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Official Review by Chad Minton, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
There are hidden gems regarding college basketball venues spread all across the United States. One such example resides in Bowling Green, Kentucky with E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have a proud basketball history that includes multiple Sweet Sixteen appearances and a Final Four berth way back in 1971. The modest, but beautiful, E.A. Diddle Arena was already around to see the glory days of Hilltopper basketball as it was constructed in 1963. It’s named in honor of Edgar “E.A.” Diddle, a former Hilltopper basketball coach who piled up over 750 wins and a win percentage of over 70 percent.
Usually arenas grow in capacity over the years, but Diddle Arena has actually done the opposite. It once had the ability to hold over 13,000 fans, but now has a capacity of 7,500. That number is still plenty large enough to get this place to a loud level, and gives the Hilltoppers a distinct home-court advantage. It also makes for a more pleasant and comfortable fan experience without the seats being crammed up against each other.
Extensive renovations were made to Diddle Arena in 2002, and it’s safe to say they hit the mark.
If you call yourself a college basketball fan and you’re traveling through the Bluegrass state, you better make time to witness a game at this historical site for college basketball. You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
You will be blown away by the wide variety of food options at Diddle Arena. They take no shortcuts in making sure fans are completely taken care of when it comes to the concession areas. Far too often we go to smaller arenas only to find the most basic of options that you could seemingly find at a high school gym. The exact opposite occurs at Diddle Arena.
If you're a seafood lover, you have to stop at Seafood Steamer. It's located in the 2nd level concourse area and offers fresh seafood that you can't get at most college basketball arenas. The shrimp and crab nachos catch the eye, and they are fairly priced at $8. Quesadillas or a shrimp baskets are also $8. For $10, you can get what they call a Red Skillet, which is red potatoes, yellow onions and sausage. The generous portions you receive for these orders more than make up for the price, and will do the trick for your dinner.
For the more traditional concession items, there are hot dogs for $4.25 and popcorn for $4.75. The pork nachos are really good, and they're $7.50. Again, these are all large portions to make up for the price. Pork sandwiches are $6.50, bottomless popcorn is $7 and personal pan pizzas are a mere $5.75. Rounding out these very impressive selections of food options are the panini sandwiches that you can get with steak, veggies or turkey for $6.25.
Souvenir sodas are $5.50 and smaller sizes are $3.75. There's also bottled water and Powerade for $3.75. Alcohol isn't served at Diddle Arena as it is located on campus.
Skip the expensive restaurant and have dinner at Diddle Arena when attending a game. You'll be taken care of and find some good food to hold you over throughout the game.
Upon entering Diddle Arena, you first get the feeling that you're entering a high school gym. The hallways are narrow, there are a lot of classrooms and the building seems tiny. However, once you start navigating throughout the venue, you realize how much history and tradition resides here. The walls that go along the concourses are like walking through a museum of Western Kentucky athletics. Memorabilia covers virtually every speck of the wall, and it's easy to get lost in the history. I found myself reading all of the old newspaper articles and columns that have been written about Hilltopper basketball. This is all cleverly organized by decade.
When you enter into the seating area, you really get a sense of how awesome this place is. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how large the interior is after walking in from the concourse area.
Expect the place to always be full of energy and excitement, regardless of where the Hilltoppers may be in the standings. The electricity really flows through this place when the team is competing for championships.
There isn't a classic scoreboard that hangs over the center of the court. Instead, there are two standard definition scoreboards that are in diagonal corners. They're nothing fancy, but they do the trick.
You'll be delighted to find out how much leg room is provided, and how comfortable the chair back seats are. Too many arenas fall victim to cramming as many seats as possible into a small space, leaving the fan with very little room to stretch out their legs or climb out of the aisle. You won't run into that problem here. There is some bleacher seating mixed in among the regular seats.
Mascots always make the experience more fun, and "Big Red" is a classic. He's basically a big red blob, but he does a fantastic job enhancing the fan experience with his various antics.
There's nothing too special about Bowling Green outside of the fact that it's a classic college town filled with some fun local bars. You also won't have a problem finding a fast food or casual dining option before or after the game.
If you like live music, then one popular spot to check out is Tidball's. It's located just a few blocks from the arena, allowing you to walk if the weather isn't too bad. This would be a great place to go have a few drinks after the game.
To get more of a dining experience, go to 440 Main. They have Cajun cuisine, a solid wine list and a friendly crowd. It's also located about a mile away from the campus. There are several other bars and restaurants to explore that cater to the college scene.
The campus of Western Kentucky is located a few miles off of Interstate-65, and that's where you will find most of your lodging options. If you're really wanting to stay somewhere nice, then the Hyatt Place is located on Center Street, which is right next to Diddle Arena.
There is a theme park located in Bowling Green, but unfortunately it isn't open during basketball season.
You'll never confuse fair weather fans with Hilltopper fans. Regardless of how poorly the team may be playing in a given season, there is a solid core of fans that will always make it to Diddle Arena to show their support. Some fan bases only show up when their respective team is at the top of the standings, but that's simply not the case here.
If Diddle Arena isn't at least half full, then look out the window to make sure the world isn't coming to an end. Fans from the great Commonwealth of Kentucky have the reputation of being diehard college basketball fans, and Western Kentucky fans uphold that reputation.
The only minor criticism is the lack of a defined student section. Students have the ability to make their home turf a very difficult place to play for opposing teams. There are plenty of ordinary fans represented at Hilltopper games, but a stronger student section would be nice to see, and elevate the fan atmosphere to another level.
Parking is usually an adventure when these arenas are located on college campuses that you're not familiar with. For instance, it can be confusing on where you're allowed to park upon arriving to Diddle Arena. Be careful not to park in a permit only lot, and there are several of them surrounding the arena. More signs directing the visiting fan on where they're allowed to park would be helpful.
As long as you're prepared to walk, there are some free lots on the outer perimeters of campus.
The elevators will be a welcoming surprise to take you to the upper level, and the concourses are simple to navigate through, even if they're a little narrow.
Finding your way to Bowling Green and the campus itself should be no problem. It's about a 10 to 15-minute drive off of Interstate-65. If you're coming from the South, then taking William H. Natcher Parkway to Nashville Road will direct you right to the campus. Navigating around the perimeter of the campus shouldn't give you any problems.
You won't have any headaches finding Diddle Arena, but give yourself time to find a viable parking spot.
You absolutely get your money's worth when attending a game at Diddle Arena. You can expect ticket prices to be in the neighborhood of $12 for tickets outside of the lower sections. Tickets could go up to $25 for Saturday games, depending on the opponent. The positive fan experience and proud history of Western Kentucky basketball make up for that price. Concession prices may be above average for a Conference USA venue, but they make up for it with the quality and large portion sizes. After a short walk, you can find free parking on most occasions.
A below average fan experience would really hurt this score, but the fan experience will far exceed the ordinary fan's expectations. These prices are very fair for what you're getting in return.
I'm giving out a couple extra points for how proud Diddle Arena is of the history of Western Kentucky athletics. You basically get a free trip to a museum as you walk down the hallways and learn about all of the great moments that have happened here.
This arena gets some bonus points for how much it embraces its main school color of red. Many venues miss the mark on something as simple as showing pride in the school colors. Virtually everything is red inside Diddle Arena, giving you that instant feeling of being in Hilltopper country. You'll be in the vast minority if you're not wearing red at this place. Not to mention, the mascot is named "Big Red" and is a big red blob. Can't go wrong there.
Finally, I give an extra point to how comfortable the seating is. The combination of the cushioned seats and the two-plus feet of leg space makes for a pleasant experience that is unusual when attending a sporting event of any level.
With the exception of some minor criticisms, this is about as perfect of an experience as any college basketball fan would want. You will most likely get that same experience if you come to Diddle Arena. The fans are passionate and friendly. There is so much love and loyalty to this basketball program and it is fun to see in person. Additionally, the arena staff is noticeably engaged in making sure the fan experience is as great as it can be, and that plays a big role in the healthy attendance numbers. Other mid-major basketball arenas need to take a page or two from the playbook of Diddle Arena.
Member Review by paul
E.A. Diddle Arena is named for the legendary coach who guided the Western Kentucky Hilltopper athletic program from the early 1920's until his retirement in 1964. During that time he amassed 1,040 wins coaching the football, baseball, women's and men's basketball team. It is the latter sport in which he was most renowned, winning 759 times in 42 years as head coach. The arena was named for him in 1963, a year before his retirement.
Diddle's signature red towel has become the symbol of the athletic program as a whole. Head men's basketball coach, Ken McDonald continues the tradition carrying a red towel into the arena and waving it at the student section as he makes his way to the bench.
Today, the Western Kentucky basketball program is often the step-child in a basketball crazy state. That shouldn't stop college basketball fans from venturing to the hilly college town of Bowling Green, Kentucky. E.A. Diddle Arena provides a fantastic basketball experience at an affordable price.
Member Review by ianmccor on Apr 19, 2014
The prototype of what you associate with mid-major basketball: small town, mid-sized arena filled with passionate fans. Not a great venue, but not a bad one either.
Member Review by AJ1225 on Feb 25, 2016
I've been to two games at Western Kentucky both in 2016 as my girlfriend is a member of the pep band. Both times I sat in the student section right next to the band with a great view of the action. If a C-USA rival such as MTSU or Marshall is in town Diddle Arena will peak at about 70-80% full and the students turn out. In these situations, the atmosphere is electric and the place can get loud quickly. I love the smaller enclosed feel of Diddle Arena for numerous reasons but for the main fact that it encloses the noise from the band and the students. The facility is beautiful for a school of it's athletic prestige and the environment can be fun and electric if you attend a big rivalry game and the team is at least having an average year.
1780 Scottsville Rd
Bowling Green, KY 42104
522 Morris Alley
Bowling Green, KY 42101
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1347 Center St
Bowling Green, KY 42101