Even the most loyal Iowa sports fans can sometimes forget that the state has a fourth Division I program: the Drake University Bulldogs. Even though the school is only home to around 5,000 students, the Drake Bulldogs have managed to prove themselves as a legitimate basketball school, posting a number of memorable seasons since the program's introduction in the 1906-07 season. Located in the heart of possibly one of the most underrated sports cities in the United States, Des Moines, the Knapp Center has served as the home of Drake Bulldogs basketball since its construction in 1992, and provides a quality example that a quality sports experience comes down to a lot more than just size and exposure.
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The Knapp Center has the basics and essentials covered, but didn't go overboard by stocking its concessions stands with exotic foods or items that are difficult to find anywhere else. Classic items like the "Beef Hot Dog" ($3), pretzel ($3 + $1 for cheese), and pizza ($3.50) are available at the majority of its concessions stands for pretty low costs. The "Bulldog Sausage" ($3) is a fan favorite, while other items such as nachos ($4), popcorn ($3), Kettle Corn and Caramel Corn ($4), candy ($4), ice cream ($3), and pickles ($2), even though they're not overly unique, give fans plenty of options.
As you may expect for any athletic facility located on campus grounds, there are no alcohol sales in the Knapp Center, so for beverages, fans are instead can pick between options such as soda ($3-$4), lemonade ($3-$4), and bottled water ($3).
It's amazing how much a pep band can do for the atmosphere of a game. Even though the Knapp Center's sound system isn't very good, Drake's pep band does a great job of pulling fans into the game and making sure the overall mood and atmosphere of the Knapp Center never falls. The Knapp Center definitely has more of a laid back feel to it, but that's not always a bad thing, and in this case, in a small arena within the confines of a small school, it works for them. Despite playing in the competitive Missouri Valley Conference, Drake Bulldog basketball has always been known for quality, and fans can count on their team competing for a win every night, keeping everyone in the Knapp Center on the edge of their seat and glued to the game.
Located in downtown Des Moines, Drake University and the Knapp Center find themselves in a great neighborhood for sports fans. There's a major bar scene and a lot of nightlife located no more than a couple of blocks in either direction, but the two fan favorite postgame hangouts are Peggy's Tavern (3020 Forest Ave.) and Jethro's BBQ (3100 Forest Ave.), both of which are just down the street from the Knapp Center and easily within walking distance.
Jethro's BBQ has an awesome menu and has been voted a regional finalist as Men's Health magazine's search for the Manliest Restaurant in America for its huge portions and fun atmosphere. Peggy's Tavern is known for its awesome food and beverage selections and for its support of Drake Athletics and the Drake Relays.
One of the biggest reasons Des Moines is such an underrated sports city is that people in the area are smart and genuinely understand athletics, especially football and basketball. Drake is a small university, made up of a little over 3,000 undergraduates and 2,000 postgraduates, but students and fans always manage to fill up the Knapp Center and have fun. Even during holidays and breaks in school, the Knapp Center student section, known as Spike's Army, maintains pretty good attendance and spirit, definitely adding to the atmosphere and excitement of the game. The fans are nice and inviting, yet unwaveringly loyal to Drake athletics, making them great people to experience a game with.
There isn't a ton of parking surrounding the Knapp Center but there does seem to be enough spots for everyone in attendance. Most of the parking lots are either directly across from or next to the Knapp Center, but most of them also cost around $6 to use.
Inside the arena, bathrooms don't seem to be planned in the most effective way. There is only one set of marked bathrooms located near the gate of the arena, meaning that fans sitting on the other side have to walk from one end to the other just to use them.
Concessions are a little better, with stands conveniently located in the corners of the arena and food and beverages only a short walk away.
With general admission tickets costing only $2-$15, the Knapp Center offers some of the cheapest men's basketball tickets in the Missouri Valley Conference, and the country. And with closer seats only ranging from $9-$25, it's hard to argue with the price of entry at the Knapp Center. Even some of the added expenses, such as $6 parking, are mostly offset by cheaper prices in other places, such as relatively cheap concessions costs and $1 programs, making the Knapp Center a pretty good bang for the buck, especially for a high quality NCAA basketball game.
Nothing personal against the guy in the bulldog costume, who seemed to do a great job of getting fans out of their seats and engaged in the game, but there's nothing like a real live bulldog to get people excited. Many times, even with the biggest and most expensive stadiums, it's the little things that can make a big difference, and having a drooling yet lovable bulldog roaming behind the basket is a great touch.
Even though there are currently no former Bulldogs in the NBA, Drake has managed to produce some very respectable talent including 2008 MVC Player of the Year Adam Emmenecker and local legends such as Dolph Pulliam, Willie McCarter, Lewis Lloyd, Red Murrell, Willie Wise, and number of others. Except for Emmenecker, each of these players' jersey numbers have been retired by the team, and hang in the rafters of the Knapp Center for fans to remember with pride.
For true NCAA basketball fans, if you look past the glitz, glamour, and especially the money that most sports venues allow themselves to take pride in, what it really comes down to are the fans and the quality of the team itself. The Knapp Center has managed to take on the very characteristics of the campus around it: small, humble, yet cherished and celebrated. And while Drake University may lack the size and population to demand any real, national attention or respect, within its own little corner of Des Moines, loyal Bulldogs fans and alumni are as proud as they come. The Knapp Center provides a quality basketball atmosphere and tradition at a very reasonable price. What more could a college basketball fan ask for?
I found the Knapp Center to be a very average experience. But even though the venue is pretty average, this is Valley basketball and the price is great!
3100 Forest Ave
Des Moines, IA 50311
3020 Forest Ave
Des Moines, IA 50311
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