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Official Review by Jon Hart, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
President Obama has a college team to be proud of. The Columbia men’s basketball team roared on to the national radar during the 2014-2015 season when they pushed powerhouse Kentucky to their limit. They led the Wildcats deep into the second half before eventually succumbing.
Columbia plays their home games at the modest, 2,700 seat Francis S. Levien Gymnasium, which no one will confuse with Rupp Arena. Located in Morningside Heights, a fifteen subway ride from Times Square, Levien is the anti-Rupp. Most of the seats don’t have backs, and there are no seats whatsoever behind the baskets. However, Levien has ample charm. There is no bad seat at Levien - and it’s very affordable, $15 for conference and $10 for non-conference games. The seats with the backs can sell out, so plan ahead.
Since Columbia’s conference, the Ivy League, doesn’t have a conference tournament, all league games, which are played on Friday and Saturday nights, are ultra crucial and competitive.
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".
You're not hitting a Columbia game for the chow or even really a snack for that matter. They offer water, soda, candy and Subway sandwiches. Perhaps that's for the best. There are plenty of excellent restaurants in the area. Dine before or after the game.
Columbia games are a draw. On occasion, some even sell out. The students turn out, and they sit in the designated student section, which is across from the team's benches. Most stand during the game.
The Columbia band is fun and sometimes a bit off color - but not too much. There are plenty of kids and parents nearby, and they enjoy themselves, particularly when Columbia's mascot, "Roar-ee," is in the vicinity. Columbia also has enormous dance and cheerleading squads.
During breaks in the action, Columbia keeps it somewhat academic. Quick: Who are the two tallest presidents? Abe Lincoln and LBJ are both 6'4". At Levien, things are anything but stagnant. If you want a more sedate experience, the seats behind the team benches, where mostly parents and alums sit, should do the trick.
If you're visiting Columbia, you should definitely take a stroll around Columbia's urban neighborhood, where there's no shortage of restaurants, bars and people watching opportunities. Columbia's neighborhood has a unique feel, both Seinfeldian and Ivy League. The best activity in New York City is arguably walking, and I strongly suggest that you do that before or after a Columbia game. The neighborhood is safe and well lit. Unlike Times Square, it doesn't at all feel like a tourist trap mob scene.
The fans turn out for the Lions. Games sell out. Arrive early if you don't want to wait in line for tickets. It's not Cameron Indoor Stadium, but the student section gets rowdy and creative with their cheers. If you want a more genteel experience, sit in the section behind the team's benches.
If you're driving, you should be able to nab a free space on the street with a little effort. There are also over-priced parking lots in the neighborhood, of course in NYC, all paid parking is over-priced. If you're coming via public transportation, the #1 subway stop at 116th Street is yards just away from Levien Gym.
Compared to the Knicks and Nets, a Columbia game is a bargain. Sure there are less bells and whistles and chances are that your seat will not have a back, but that's exactly what's refreshing about the Columbia hoops experience. And Columbia has an improving squad, one that can be competitive with any team in the country. They defeated Villanova in 2012.
After or before the game, walk around the impressive Columbia campus. Its majestic buildings are a sight to behold. If walking is your thing, Central Park, arguably the best park in the world, is nearby. If you're in NYC, and you're into hoops, Levien Gymnasium is well worth adding to your itinerary.
Jon Hart is the author of Man Versus Ball: One Ordinary Guy And His Extraordinary Sports Adventures.
Member Review by Jba0088 on Apr 10, 2013
Columbia University, located in the Upper West Side of New York City, is one of the most prestigious schools in the country. United States Presidents, Generals, world leaders and famous authors and actors have all walked through the beautiful quad located in the center of the campus on their way to class. The architecture of the buildings and the history of the university make it very obvious that you are on the campus of an Ivy League school.
Then, you go to Levien Gymnasium for a Columbia Lions basketball game and see how much the University cares about sports. The basketball arena is literally in the basement of the physical education center. In a nutshell.... not a lot.
This isn’t to say that the gym wasn’t packed for the game I attended where the Lions played their arch-rival, the Princeton Tigers. There was barely a seat available,(in fact, I think it was a sellout). What was stunning to me was that Levien Gymnasium is an absolutely terrible facility. It’s an atrocious place to watch a game. It’s about as aesthetically pleasing as a train station located in the middle of nowhere. If you show up even a minute late to the game, you have to wait behind double doors until a stoppage in play before you get to take your seats. The walls are grey and the lighting is aquarium-like. The box office lines are long, and even after you get your ticket, you’re herded like cattle into a security line that takes an extremely long time to get through. In general, Levien Gymnasium is a very unpleasant place to watch a basketball game.
The gym is named for Francis Levien, a deceased lawyer from New York.
As for our FANFARE scale, don’t expect eye-popping numbers. Levien Gym doesn’t deserve them.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Feb 23, 2014
I think a lot of the problems that are described in the official review were absent in the game I attended, an afternoon affair with Ivy League co-leaders Yale in attendance. I booked my ticket in advance ($10) and had no trouble picking it up at will call and being in my seat well before tip off. The arena was packed, with many visiting fans as well. The Lions won the game handily and the fans and students were into it from the start. Broadway is a great area and of course Times Square is just 15 minutes away by the 1 train. I did not see any food for sale here, and agree that the access needs to be improved. Very tight seating and the top rows have a slightly obstructed view. The basement location is not such a negative during the day as sunlight comes in through the windows on one side. Well worth the time and money on this day.
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