BYU guard Jimmer Fredette is the talk of the college basketball world, and rightfully so. Fans of Cougar basketball have swarmed the Marriott Center en masse this season to catch a glimpse of perhaps the most special player Provo has ever seen. This is no small feat, as the Marriott Center holds 22,700, making it the fourth-largest college basketball venue in the country.
With Jimmer's graduation along with a switch to the West Coast Conference and plenty of unfamiliar opponents on the horizon beginning next season, only time will tell if the enthusiasm built up over this season can carry on into the future. As it stands now, however, the BYU basketball experience is by far the best in the West, as evidenced by my trip there February 5th to see the Cougars best UNLV, 78-64.
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".
With lots of concourse space to fill, you'll find plenty of food choices. The traditional fare is moderately priced, ranging from $2.50 for a soft pretzel ($1.25 more for a cheese cup to dip it in) to $3 for candy and hot dogs, $3.50 for nachos or popcorn and $6.50 for a personal pizza. Drinks come in either bottles or cups and range from $3 for bottled water to $4 for soda.
The best thing to satisfy the sweet tooth is the well-known BYU Creamery ice cream. A pint will cost you $3.50. For Dippin' Dots lovers, be ready to plunk down $4-$6. Frozen lemonade or a churro is available for $4 for alternative dessert options.
BYU Dining Services has a handful of unique booths available, including a soup and sandwich kiosk, something I haven't seen in an indoor arena before. One of the more popular Dining Services creations is the "Cougar Tail" akin to a large maple bar ($4.50). If you really want to go the extra mile, you can pay $3 more to have a bratwurst put inside it to create the "Brat-Tail." Yes, that's what they really call it.
A handful of local chains also have stands, including one for a Fresh-Mex place called Costa Vida. A pork or chicken burrito or salad will set you back $9. The better choice is to take the one-mile trip to the Costa Vida on University Blvd.
If you were dropped into the Marriott Center blindfolded and asked to guess where you are, you would probably guess a BCS conference school or even a pro arena. Everything from the sheer size of the arena to the volume of the fans (especially the students) gives the feel of a big-time program.
This was most evident during pre-game introductions. You know how the Los Angeles Lakers drop those giant white sheets from the rafters and display highlights on them before the starters are introduced? That's what BYU does. Even if you aren't a BYU fan, the presentation is awe-inspiring. You can get a feel for it by watching this video, shot before BYU's win over San Diego State, but which is essentially identical to the pre-UNLV presentation.
The Marriott Center is completely surrounded by campus and a strip of homes across the street on the north side. Because of BYU's affiliation with the LDS Church, Provo doesn't have the feel of a typical college town. In other words, there aren't many hole-in-the-wall/uniquely styled places to spend your pre- or post-game.
You'll find lots of burger joints, but one worth noting is the Creamery on Ninth East (1209 N 900 E, 1 mile away from MC), one of a handful of BYU Creamery outposts. The CONE, unlike the others, is home to a full-service grocery store and grill. The burgers are what you'd expect, but you have lots of options for fries, including garlic or cracked pepper. Plus, you'll find plenty of ice cream choices to top off your meal. All in all, you can get a burger combo and a small cup of ice cream for around $7-10. The recommendation is to go before the game, as BYU students flood the CONE after nearly every major on-campus happening.
If pizza's more your thing, Pizza Pie Cafe (2235 N University Parkway, 1.3 miles from MC) is relatively new on the scene, but has become a hit thanks to its buffet. For $6.99, you get all you can eat pizza, pasta, salad and dessert. Add $1.50 for a refillable soda, if you're in the mood. My favorite among the non-traditional pizzas is the "Spud-O-Licious" with a white sauce topped with cheese, crumbled bacon and large potato slices. It looks odd at first, but one bite goes a long way.
The concept of students camping out to get the best seats is nothing new at many campuses across the country, but it is a recent phenomenon at BYU. Lines of tents have become commonplace outside the Marriott Center this season, but that doesn't mean you're out of luck if you have a student ticket or pass and don't show up the night before.
The doors open two hours before tip, and the rush of overnighters fill the front of the student section. I got there about an hour before tipoff and got a seat halfway up in the corner - my ideal seat, really. Even then, the student section was only between one-half and two-thirds full, so a decent choice of seats is available until about 10 minutes before tipoff.
While the BYU student section doesn't have the wide array of unique chants that, say, Duke's Cameron Crazies do, it is quite adaptive. One example: UNLV's signature chant is a monotone "REB-ELS" accompanied by a rhythmic tomahawk chop of sorts. Anytime the Rebel faithful in the Marriott Center tried to start the chant, BYU students began to chop while saying "JIMM-ER." That, coupled with UNLV's rough day on offense effectively silenced the "Rebel Yell."
All of the parking in the immediate area around the Marriott Center is reserved for season ticket holders, so get ready for a walk. Most fans park in the nearby football stadium parking lot, but depending on the day and time of the game, most spots on campus are available, especially on Saturdays. Be sure to double-check the signs when you go into a lot.
Also, be aware that BYU police almost entirely focus their post-game shepherding efforts on the Marriott Center lots, so you'll probably have to fend for yourself to get out in an orderly fashion.
Even with the Marriott Center's massive size, bathrooms are fairly easy to find and large enough to accommodate the halftime rush.
For the quality of the experience, both on the court and in the stands, BYU basketball is a great value. You get a professional feel for a collegiate price in so many different ways. BYU is also trying to find new ways to enhance the experience, which is where I begin handing out bonus points.
One point for the text message-based services available for fans. This is the second season BYU has offered fans the option to send a text to security to resolve issues. Only one sign in the arena touts this service, so maybe better advertising on BYU's part would help it run smoother. One new text service frequently advertised, meanwhile, allows fans to order food from their seat and have it delivered to them. I saw one such fan place and receive such an order, but I'm not sure exactly how he paid for it.
One point for the student section's undying love for BYU president Cecil O. Samuelson. As Pres. Samuelson takes his seat across the way, students wave at him until he waves back to thunderous applause. Plus, each time BYU makes a free throw, the students shout, "Whoosh! Cecil!" as they point to the president. Not something you'll find at many schools.
One point for Cosmo, the cougar mascot. Even given the Marriott Center size, Cosmo makes an effort to reach as many people in the stands as possible. One sojourn to my section led to a mob of students posing with him for a photo. It's good to be the king cat.
As I wrote earlier, only time will tell if this level of enthusiasm continues for BYU basketball. Though this score may dip in the future, the overall experience this year is something that can't be missed.
When any team is this exciting to watch and the fans do all they can to match or exceed that level of excitement, it's a trip well-spent. Can you really attribute it all to just one player? Perhaps not entirely, but you'd be naive to think the Marriott Center hasn't become, to some degree, "The House That Jimmer Filled."
The Marriott Center is a must visit - with its mammoth seating of over 22,700 - it is the home of BYU Basketball.
This is the best place ever! Everytime I go, I have a blast!!
1209 North 900 East
Provo, UT 84602
2235 North University Parkway
Provo, UT 84604
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