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Official Review by Josh Adams, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
I went to visit the New Jersey Institute of Technology basketball arena expecting very little. After all, this is a program that lost 51 straight games when they entered Division I, and the school isn’t really known as an athletic powerhouse. Unfortunately, the low expectations I had were not even met. I actually laughed a little when I walked into the facility. It looked like a YMCA intramural league gym. I sat down and marveled at the fact that I was watching D-I basketball in a place that was no bigger than my elementary school gymnasium. To top it off, NJIT was playing Army that night. The actual team from West Point, NY was going to play here.
So, there’s really two ways of looking at the experience of watching a home NJIT game. The optimist says, “Hey, D-I basketball where I can sit five feet from the floor with a general admission ticket. Sweet! ” The pessimist says, “This is Division I? What a joke. I know high school gyms that blow this out of the water.” So, as a Stadium Journey Correspondent, I have to keep an open mind, but I have a duty to tell the sports traveler the unadulterated truth. I like to think of myself as an optimist, but this is really a not great facility.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Do you remember the days of watching or participating in a kids baseball or basketball game and there was that crappy snack bar that just sold hot dogs, candy and cans of soda? If you're nostalgic for that experience, come to an NJIT basketball game. That's all they have to offer. Hot dogs are $3 (2 for $5), M&M's and other candies are $2 and soda is $2. I tried to get a Pepsi at halftime, but they were sold out of them. The hot dogs looked generally unappealing, so I shared some tic-tacs with the reporter next to me. For the optimist, enjoy a bite to eat before the game. For the pessimist, this is a poor excuse for options for this level of basketball.
I can cut the students some slack because it was exam week. There were maybe a hundred students at the game (and I think I'm pretty generous with that figure). It was a compelling ballgame, and the students did make some noise at the end of it. Again, it lacked what you expect at a Division I facility. No pep band, no cheerleaders, and a mascot who sat silently behind me for half the game.
The only music was what sounded like a boombox being played into the PA microphone. There is only one set of bleachers, which sits about 1,500. The lighting for the arena has the effect of watching basketball beneath a giant halogen lamp. The scoreboards had message capabilities, but only displayed the date and time. I think the thing that stuck out the most was that they only used half the gym for the basketball floor. There's this giant open space behind one of the baskets, and occasionally a manager or a player had to chase a basketball into this space when it went out of bounds.
I'm a fan of Newark, New Jersey. It is what it is, a city that fell on tough times, and is trying to reinvent itself. There's no pretense about it, it's a tough place with a high crime rate. It didn't look like NJIT was in a particularly bad area, but it felt desolate. There is nothing around it that makes it feel like a typical college neighborhood. Again, I went during exam week, and nary a student could be found walking around campus. I asked a security guard where to eat around the campus, and he pointed in the direction of a Subway and a Pizza Hut. There is an on-campus bar, but it was closed the night I visited. If you are staying in Newark, go to the Ironbound district for good ethnic food (Portuguese and Brazilian Steakhouses).
I feel that I can give some good points to NJIT here. As the game progressed, the fans got more and more into the game. With two minutes left, NJIT cut a 15 point deficit to Army and actually escaped with a one point win. The fans and team danced around after the game, and it was kind of a fun scene. Games like that is what makes college basketball so much fun to cover. With continued success, maybe more people will show up. I did eavesdrop on a funny conversation outside of the gym. A student was on her phone trying to get her friend to show up at the game. She kept pleading into the phone, "But they're playing Army! West Point! I know, It's crazy!". I couldn't agree more.
I can't really speak on driving to the game. The parking just looked like street parking and in Newark that could be a little risky. I would more rely on public transportation to NJIT if I was visiting. It's actually really easy from Penn Station- Newark to get to the campus. Just hop on board the Newark Light Rail, pay 70 cents at the ticket vending machine and take it to Warren St. which is about 3 stops away. You'll go up the stairs, and you're in the back of the athletic facility. Just walk down the pathway next to the soccer field and you'll be at the front door. If you're kind of squeamish of being alone in a subway station after a night game, you could always take a cab back to Penn Station. The light rail itself is very clean, and is police patrolled. There is a men's room and a ladies room in the gym lobby, next to the aforementioned snack bar.
This is when you have to be an optimist when it comes to the NJIT experience. It's a flat $9 to see a basketball game. There are no assigned seats, every seat is on a first come, first serve basis. NJIT actually plays two potential NCAA tournament teams at home this year (Army and Penn) and it gives the hardcore basketball fan a chance to see Division I players up close and personal. NJIT will play a couple of games at the Prudential Center in downtown Newark (home of the New Jersey Devils and Seton Hall basketball) in the near future, so that might be good in the long run if they want to build up their fanbase.
NJIT plays in the Great West Conference. They actually have conference away games against Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley this year. For the life of me, I can't figure this one out. No one could give me a definitive answer why. You would think the NEC could admit them into their conference. It would certainly help them to play other teams in the area.
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