When one thinks of the top programs in men's college basketball history, a few colleges rise to the top: Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, Temple"¦Temple? Yes, Temple, the former commuter school whose "Night Owl" students gave name to the school's mascot, is 6th all-time in NCAA Division I victories. Now, the 15,000 students who live on and around the North Philadelphia school's campus give Temple less of a commuter feel than a real city university, and they have a stadium to compete with any great mid-major in the country.
Built in 1997, the Peter J. Liacouras Center (formerly the Apollo of Temple) is a modern stadium that seats over 10,000 in the most competitive mid-major league in the country, the Atlantic 10.
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".
The Liacouras Center might just have deserved five points here, but what can I say"¦I'm a tough grader. The truth is, however, that the food rivals that found in any of the major ballparks at the southern end of Broad Street. Philadelphia staple Chickie's & Pete's has a booth, selling their famous crab fries and chicken cutlets (both $8), right next to City View Pizza, a local chain selling slices for $3.50.
Unlike many college venues, the Liacouras Center sells beer, and not just Miller Lite ($5): Instead, one can purchase Pennsylvania's famous Yuengling Lager or Guinness, for between $6-8.
Ice cream, hot dogs, popcorn, and the rest of the normal stadium fare can be had as well""walking through the concourse on the way to one's seat certainly makes it tough to remain there at halftime.
While the Liacouras Center has only seen the last slice of Temple's illustrious past, it has had a pair of very respectable coaches roam it's sidelines in Hall of Famer John Chaney and Big 5 legend Fran Dunphy. The two men have taken Temple to the Big Dance a combined 20 times since 1983, including a few Elite 8 appearances. Players like Pepe Sanchez, Ryan Brooks, and LaVoy Allen have given Temple a fairly intimidating home court presence, and the atmosphere will build as long as Temple keeps bringing in coaches in the mold of Dunphy and Chaney.
The Wild Cherry student section is positioned behind one basket, and while the students are into the game, the section doesn't have much in terms of unity. Having heart is one thing, but to be a really "good" student section, Wild Cherry's leaders (if there are any) need to get the section together with more unique chants and actions.
For most of its existence, Temple University was a commuter school, with no off-campus living or nightlife really to speak of. Now, however, the area around the campus is rapidly gentrifying, and serves as quite a shock for those who haven't been to Templetown in a few years. The Avenue North shopping center adds a multiplex cinema as well as some pretty good places to grab a bite to eat, and Temple is planning new dorms and shopping space right across the street.
That's not to say, however, that the area is still too great. While many of the townhouses are being renovated and snapped up by students, there is still a high level of crime in the area. Staying on Broad Street is fine, but one will not want to park on 18th street (just four blocks away) at night and leave anything visible in the car. Give this five years, however, and the Temple neighborhood could very easily be a three or even four star rating.
For a bite and/or a drink before or after the game, try the Draught Horse Pub. They boast to have the best burgers in town, and have a pretty decent menu and a good selection of beers (including some interesting local options) and other drinks. They also have good nachos and sandwiches.
Because it was a commuter school for so long, many Temple alumni went to school but didn't have much of a connection to the University""or to many of the sports teams. That affects football much more than it affects basketball, and Temple does fill (or nearly fill) home games against its better opponents (Xavier, Dayton, rival St. Joseph's). Going to a midweek home game, like I did when the ranked Owls hosted the 6-16 Fordham Rams, doesn't exactly inspire conference in the Temple fan base.
The student section, as I said earlier, certainly has some spirit (especially when the Owls are playing well, which is the norm), but the alumni did quite a bit of sitting on their hands. For example, when Fordham was down 20 at halftime but rallied to within 3 points, there was some supportive applause"¦but nothing more. Most stadiums would be on their feet to support their team, maybe realizing they needed a bit of a boost, but the Owl alumni just didn't quite give the support the team needed. Hopefully as Temple graduates more alumni who feel like Owls, that arena will fill up""and then this home court could have a very dangerous advantage.
It's a city stadium, so traffic is always a little bit of a problem""though the smart spectator should arrive early for dinner and grab a premium spot in the Liacouras Garage on 15th St. for $12. It's right across the street from the stadium and indoors, so getting a spot on a lower level definitely helps for when the game is over. Aside from that, parking on side streets is fairly easy for night games and Sunday games, though I'd caution against parking too far from the stadium. The stadium is easily wheelchair accessible through the main entrance, and being a modern stadium, has plenty of water fountains and bathrooms throughout the concourse.
Temple basketball is really still a sort of hidden gem for sports lovers in the Northeastern part of the country. There's really nothing NOT to like about the program or the school itself""quiet and unassuming, Temple basketball is built on recruiting top-level role players who understand defense and don't care whether they score 0 points or 30, so long as they come away with the win. Like John Chaney before him, Fran Dunphy has a program that looks to remain entrenched in the top quarter of the Atlantic 10, a surprisingly tough conference that annually sends multiple teams to the big dance. However, for a lower level seat of $35 (and in this stadium, I'm not entirely sure that a $28 corner seat isn't just as good a view), you're definitely getting what you pay for out of this trip. The pep band does a great job keeping the place rocking, the fans are respectful (though I guess that comes with being fairly quiet), and the on court product is fun to watch if not a little ugly at times.
There's just something about this place that deserved three extra stars. The stadium is comfortable, the atmosphere is really good, and the teams are always fun to watch. What's great about Temple is the kind of players they attract, from all over the world""and I mean that literally. One of the greatest Temple players of the last 20 years was Argentinian point guard Juan "Pepe" Sanchez, and he was followed a decade later by fellow Argentine Juan Fernandez. Also, Temple's campus is surprisingly nice, and many Philadelphians would better understand their city if they took a walk around.
Food and Beverage: A wide variety of food options are available, including beer! Food is pretty pricy for what you get though.
Atmosphere: The atmosphere varies widely depending on the opponent. Games against Big 5 opponents, particularly Villanova and and Saint Joe's, as well as upper tier A-10 teams such as Xavier bring out good crowds. For lesser opponents such as Fordham or GW, the atmosphere can be flat. The Wild Cherry student section (Cherry Crusade), however, is involved and keep things lively regardless of who the Owls are playing.
Neighborhood: Temple is located in North Philly, a wide expanse of run down ghetto and/or abandonedness. Temple's campus itself is generally well patrolled and safe, and extremely well lit after dark, but step a block or two off campus to the east (past 11th St) or west or north and you are putting yourself at serious risk. However, the campus is continuing to build and expand its tentacles and so hopefully the gentrification will continue.
Fans: The Cherry Crusade student section, despite the official review here, is good and unified, making its presence felt throughout the game. Point deductions are for the rest of the crowd which tends to be quiet most of the time, and for the fans disguised as empty seats.
Access: The Liacouras Center is conveniently located along North Broad St a few miles north of Center City. The Broad Street Subway line is conveniently nearby, but most people seem to drive here. Unfortunately the arena is not near any major highways, so if you come via Broad Street or any other street to get to Temple, there is a lot of stop and go. Many of roads that get you to Temple's campus, particularly coming from the east or west, go through very sketchy areas. Once you get there, there are garages and lots around the area for a fee, or you can try parking along the street, some parking along Broad St is metered, or you can try parking on the campus streets through it is pretty tight.
Return on investment: Temple basketball is the 6th winningest program in NCAA history, and has been a perennial Tournament team under John Chaney and now Fran Dunphy. Rumors continue to swirl that a move to the Big East is imminent. Tickets for Temple games range from $35 for lower level sideline seats, to $12 for upper level seats behind the basket. This is undoubtedly the most comfortable college basketball venue in Philly, unlike other schools in town, there are no bleachers here, every seat has a back and is cushioned. Depending on the game, odds are you'll be able to sneak down or move around without hassle. This the best bargain in the Philadelphia sports scene: a great product on the floor, a consistent winner and class act in coach Dunphy, an energetic student section. If the Big East move happens, this will become a much tougher ticket.
Extras: One point for selling beer, one point for the Wild Cherry student section, one point for the massive home court advantage (two home losses in the last 3 years), one point for coach Fran Dunphy, one point for having no bad seats in the house and the ability to move around unless the game is sold out. Subtract one point for the ticket buying process. The online ticketing system works fine, but has some pretty steep fees, and for big games or weekend matinees, the walkup lines at the ticket windows are painstakingly slow. You are best advised if purchasing tickets at the window to get there *at least* 15 minutes before tipoff.
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