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Official Review by Cory Sims, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Kansas State Wildcats have been a team of extremes for decades, either making a run of Final Fours from 1948-1964 or missing the tournament entirely for a dozen straight years in the 90s and 00s. The fans pack the “Octagon of Doom” when the hated Jayhawks are in town, but you could have a bleacher to yourself if you attended many other games. That makes Bramlage either one of the loudest venues in college basketball, or one of the tamest. In recent years, the team usually overachieves based on its talent, sharing a piece of the Big 12 regular season title in 2013, and claiming an upset over top-ranked Oklahoma at home in 2016. But, this is a school and fan base that worships at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, so oftentimes the achievements of the hoops squad are somewhat ignored.
Following the departure of successful and beloved coach Frank Martin, and the hire of the uninspiring Bruce Weber, the future of Wildcats hoops is unknowable. Bramlage is nearing 30 years old, so the concourse feels a little dated with its ruffled concrete walls and lack of windows. But, there’s a lot worse ways to waste a Winter day in Manhattan, Kansas than to attend a home game in the Purple Hell.
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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".
Nothing unique here, although the prices are modest. My general opinion on food at a two-hour basketball game is to limit it to snacks and find a good local place before or after the game, and Bramlage delivers in that respect.
Pretzels, nachos, and popcorn can be had at just about any concession stand, as well as Pepsi products in a small or souvenir size. You can also find brats, burgers, and chili cheese dogs for between $5 and $6, so go for it if you're really that hungry. There is also a nacho cart in one corner of the concourse, but there's no unique ingredients or anything memorable about it. The only local food stand that sticks out is a table set up by the Friendship House which serves homemade baked items, BBQ sandwiches, and bierocks (welcome to the heartland).
There is a single concourse at the top of the arena, and all the seats descend down from there, kind of like a bowl. That seems to keep the noise in and makes the whole place feel cozier than the nearly 13,000 capacity. Of course, all of that makes for a fairly raucous environment, given the right opponent. The students, like at any college basketball game, are good for a lot of yelling and creative sign-holding, and they also stand the whole game (as they should). There are regular seats for the higher budget crowd, but a majority of the seating is metal bleachers.
There is a pep band, but most of the music is piped in through speakers. A lot of song choices seem to come from a Jock Jams type compilation album. Beside that, the fans love Darude's 1999 techno song "Sandstorm" more than I will ever love anything or anyone. There was literally a student holding a sign saying "We want Sandstorm." When they put that CD in the boombox, generally following a KSU mini scoring run, the Octagon of Doom quickly turns into the underground rave scene your parents used to hear about on the evening news. Do they not realize that a dozen other schools prominently use that song at sporting events, and that it's not a Wildcat original?
Manhattan is known as the Little Apple, and that is where the comparisons to the more famous Manhattan ends. This town, about two hours west of Kansas City, is more or less the last city of any size before you hit Denver eight hours later. It is truly a college town, which is a good thing, but it also has a military feel due to the nearby Fort Riley. Because of this, you see a lot more purple and digitized camo pattern than you would ever expect to see in the Big Apple.
The university, and in particular, the sports complex is not located in the heart of the city, which means you aren't able to walk from the famous Aggieville over to Bramlage, which is too bad. Aggieville is the bar and restaurant district named for a time when Kansas State University used to be called Kansas State Agricultural College. On a weekend night, there is a large crowd of undergrads and soldiers enjoying the atmosphere at any one of nearly 20 bars or clubs. Because of the quantity of options, there's rarely a line or cover charge for any of these hot spots, and they've all carved out a niche in the saturated market.
One great place to stop prior to a game is Varsity Donuts. It's right in Aggieville, and is well-known for tasty and unique offerings. There's plenty of casual chains in the district (Pita Pit, Jimmy John's, Chipotle to name a few), as well as several local pizzerias/delis/taverns. Local boutiques and KSU fan gear stores put a bow on an area that's worth a couple hours of your time.
The Wildcat faithful are most fervent at the football games. But, when the hated Kansas Jayhawks make the annual trek to Bramlage, the claws come out. I do believe that a KSU fan's identity is half loving K State, and half hating KU. They loathe the "chickenhawks" coming over from "Snob Hill." It's gotten so bad in recent years that the AD and school president, amongst others, have had to issue apologies for the behavior of the fans, and most notably, the marching band. However, if you're not sensitive to a few F-bombs, then a KU-KSU game is one of the better sports experiences in college basketball. The fans arrive early, they chant loud and often, and they are actively engaged in the game, booing every unfair foul (all of them).
The claws retract when the Jayhawks leave town. They may mostly fill the stands when a highly ranked opponent visits, but many games are not well-attended or very exciting. Part of this is because a sizable portion of the alumni live in Kansas City, and it's just too difficult to get to Manhattan for weeknight games when the drive takes as long as the game itself.
Although getting to Manhattan might be difficult for the masses, once you're there it's easy to get tickets and get to the game. Because the football and basketball venues share space on the edge of campus, away from downtown, there is plenty of parking lots and space for the crowds. Parking is $10, and you're best off paying that to park in a lot, because there's nowhere within walking distance to be able to park for free. There are enough scalpers around that you can easily pick up a ticket walking into the arena, and once you're inside it's easy to find seats, concessions, restrooms, etc. There can be a traffic jam exiting the parking lot at the end of the game, but you end up right on the street that takes you around town to the highway.
Tickets to many home games can be had for less than $10 online, so the investment, outside of a major rivalry game, is minimal. Parking doesn't cost much, so your biggest investment is time spent getting to the arena, assuming you don't live in Manhattan already. However, in life you generally get what you pay for, so if you are really interested in going to a KSU basketball game, splurge and pay the $100+ dollars to watch the Wildcats and the Jayhawks. The game is rarely a blowout, and every so often the Cats pull an upset and the fans storm the court. As a neutral observer, or a Wildcats fan, there're few sites more entertaining.
KSU has some interesting traditions that make the atmosphere unique.
First off, the nickname for Bramlage, the Octagon of Doom. This started up in earnest back in the Frank Martin years when the Cats were playing good ball and made a run to the Elite Eight. The arena is built into a hill in an octagon shape, so when the Wildcats are good, I suppose other teams may find their doom in the octagon.
Additionally, the slogan "EMAW" is something only KSU fans would use. "Every Man a Wildcat" has found a renewed popularity on the campus, so don't be surprised if you see it plastered across signs and shirts all over town.
Finally, the Wabash Cannonball. Prior to the game, and at least once during the game, the band plays the Wabash Cannonball and the students, and much of the crowd, rock forward and back in harmony. They seem to be really enjoying themselves, but to the outsider, it's something of a mystery.
Member Review by paul
Kansas State athletics feels similar to a lot of universities that carry "state" in their name. With the exception of Ohio and Louisiana, most of the "state" teams around the country suffer from an inferiority complex. More importantly, their fans do. This translates into the proverbial "chip on the shoulder". This isn't to imply that Wildcat fans are in any way mean or hostile in a negative way. This is Manhattan, Kansas after all, not Manhattan, New York.
Member Review by blackcats on Jan 26, 2011
This is a title not taken lightly around these parts. To get that sort of experience you must visit a conference game or high profile Non-con game. It's really the only fault with your review. I kicked up Atmosphere and Extras for one reason...a packed house makes Bramlage deafening. The reason there aren't 31 banners hanging from the ceiling is strategic, they absorb sound. I also gave us a star for neighborhood as you didn't quite make it too far into Aggieville. Rock a Belly is ok, but with places like Kite's, Texas Star, Hibachi Hut, and So Long Saloon (their raspberry chipotle salsa is known throughout the Big12) you missed the true experience.
Thanks for visiting, and if you're ever this way again, dinner is on me.
Member Review by pderrick on Nov 19, 2013
Just made my 1st visit to Bramlage and must say the student section is pretty rowdy and makes for a great experience. Overall a great neighborhood and pretty great fans, I would definitely advise making a visit. Make sure to check out Coco Bolo's and Powercat Sports Grill when in the area both have amazing menus.
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