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Official Review by Chad Minton, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Very few college basketball venues can compare to the uniqueness of the Mountain States Health Alliance Athletic Center, otherwise known as the “Mini Dome”. The building is home to East Tennessee State’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, and this is one massive building.
The Mini Dome was built in 1977 and can hold up to 14,000 fans. The dome was also the home of the East Tennessee State football team. It’s easy to get blown away by the sheer size of the interior of the Mini Dome. It can be like watching a basketball game in a giant airplane hangar.
However, the product on the court needs to get a little bit better for this place to really shine.
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There was one major problem on the night I attended, and it was so eloquently stated by a concession stand worker that they were "out of pretty much everything". The reason behind this outage was the unexpected amount of fans that turned out for this home finale for the Buccaneers.
The prices did seem reasonable, hoewver. Everything was $2 or less, including things such as nachos, hot dogs, pretzels and pizza slices. There are two different sizes on sodas, priced at $2 and $4.
The school also offered hot beverages like hot chocolate, but they also ran out of these beverages. They must have been popular on this snowy night in the mountains of Tennessee. Hopefully, the school will prepare a little bit better in the future for larger crowds.
It was definitely a cool thing to see a basketball court situated in such a large indoor facility. I had never seen anything like it for a basketball venue. What really stands out is that almost everyone is seated on one side of the floor, because the other side is no longer in use. The other set of seats were used when football games were played in the Mini Dome.
Unfortunately, East Tennessee State has not played football since 2003, so these seats are basically just wasted space. It looked quite odd to see the whole other side completely empty, with the exception of a small set of bleachers right on courtside. This place may be more suited for an arena football team than a mid-major basketball program that hasn't really made a name for itself on the national stage.
The size of this place really takes away from the atmosphere, due to how far away the court actually feels. I could see it being really difficult for this place to ever get enough fans for the place to get as loud as it would be in a smaller venue.
There are some really cool things about the Mini Dome that make the atmosphere a cool one, including the nice high definition scoreboard that runs along the sideline.
The fan contests were pretty unique, and the halftime contest was almost more entertaining than the game itself. The contest was a game of musical chairs, with an added basketball element. After the music stopped, the participants had to run down to one end of the court and sink a layup. The last two contestants provided some pretty decent suspense during the halftime break.
The campus of East Tennessee State is located in Johnson City, Tennessee. There are numerous things to do around the campus, and Tipton Street Pub seemed to be a local favorite. There are several nice restaurants in Johnson City, with The Firehouse Restaurant being a popular place to go get some good barbecue.
The campus is also right in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains, and there are plenty of things to do if you love the outdoors. With everything there is to do in the region, you can spend a few fun days in Johnson City and the surrounding area.
The large turnout of fans really had me pleasantly surprised for a team that has struggled to win games of late. Every section was close to being full, and the fans were making plenty of noise before it got out of hand in the second half.
The fans began to file out rather quickly with about 11 minutes to go, but I couldn't have blamed them at this point. The home team trailed by 30 points, and the weather was really nasty. On a night when I expected the fans to steer clear of heading out to a basketball game, I was quite impressed that the fans showed up in full support of their Buccaneers.
If the game would have been even a little closer, I think the fans would have really had the Mini Dome rocking on Senior Night, 2013.
You have to take Interstate 26 to get to Johnson City, and Interstate 40 connects with Interstate 26 from the south. You can also take Interstate 81 from the northeast to connect to Interstate 26. Finding Johnson City or the campus of East Tennessee State University isn't really the problem.
The big headache was figuring out where to park, because virtually every lot was reserved for students and faculty. Allow yourself some extra time to find where to park if you're not familiar with the campus. It was also very tough to navigate through the campus, but that is to be expected.
There is a main lobby that serves as the Mini's Dome's concourse, and this area is plenty wide enough to hold the school's regular crowds.
The bathrooms are a problem. They are cramped, not clean and outdated. There is also just one circular sink that works by stepping on a metal lever on the floor. This is an odd way to wash your hands, to say the least.
The Buccaneers have had some good teams in the past, so the tickets prices are pretty reasonable. You can sit in the upper sections for $10, or spend $12 and sit in the lower level. There is a drastic difference in how close you are to the action if you sit in the lower level.
The concession prices are as cheap as you could expect, assuming they don't run out of their supplies, and the parking was free from what I could tell.
You won't have any problem attending a game for less than $20 at the Mini Dome, and the Buccaneers usually have some pretty solid teams in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
A huge extra goes to the nice turnout of nearly 5,000 fans to see the Buccaneers take on the USC Upstate Spartans. For a small program that has experienced some recent struggles, that's a pretty impressive number.
An extra goes to the unique quality of the Mini Dome. Every venue needs to have a distinct quality to it, and the Mini Dome certainly has that.
You'll enjoy your time at the Mini Dome, and probably be blown away by how large an indoor facility can actually be. It would be really cool to see Buccaneers basketball program burst onto the national stage at the Mini Dome, because this place could really steal some headlines as a tough place to play.
If you're a college basketball fan in the Smoky Mountains region, then it's definitely worth your time to check out some mid-major basketball in Johnson City.
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110 Tipton St
Johnson City, TN 37604
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