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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Monmouth University is a small private institution located in West Long Branch, New Jersey, just a mile from the Jersey Shore. Although their men’s soccer team has achieved some moderate success recently, their basketball squad has only four tournament appearances, winning a single play-in game over Hampton in 2006. The school was a member of the Northeast Conference until 2013, when all but football moved to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). With their arena being named the rather uninventive Multipurpose Activity Center (MAC), you could say they play in the MAAC MAC.
Don’t let the boring name or my stupid joke turn you off though; the MAC is a surprisingly enjoyable place to watch college basketball. Opened in 2009 to replace the aging Boylan Gymnasium, the MAC holds 4,100 fans and includes a 200-meter indoor track above which some of the seats are temporarily installed during basketball games. It’s new, clean, and has a few ways to keep you entertained during all the media timeouts.
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".
There are two concession stands here that do a brisk business throughout the game. The main stand is right inside the entrance, while the other is in the far corner. Offerings are slim, but there are some items you won't see at other small schools. First, the typical offerings of hot dogs ($3), a pizza ($6), and popcorn and pretzels ($2 each) are inexpensive. Candy is also $2 and homemade chips are $3. The specialty items include three types of sandwich (Buffalo Chicken, Meatball Parm, and Chicken Parm) at $5 apiece, and Chile Cheese Nachos at $6. Add chips to any sandwich for just a dollar and another buck gets you a fountain beverage, normally $2 by itself. I had a Chicken Parm sandwich and it was decent and filling, but what you would expect from something made an hour or two before and left on a heating stand.
One thing you will avoid here is the nachos, as there is a local taco restaurant offering free tacos and nachos about 30 seconds away from the main concession stand. A few other sponsors provide free samples too, which enhances the overall food and beverage score a bit.
With a capacity of 4,100 the MAC is the largest on-campus basketball facility in the conference. There are two seating levels along three sides of the court with the single-level student section in one end zone. Above the student section is a standing area, which is generally filled with students chatting to friends and families allowing their youngsters to take advantage of the room to run around. When the seats are nearly filled, there is a great buzz during the game as fans are chatting and making noise. As in all college basketball games, there are eight media timeouts, and here at Monmouth, they have a plan for each one to keep you in the game. There are the usual cheerleader and dance team performances, a three-point shooting contest, a t-shirt toss, and a Happy Birthday sing-a-long among others. The MC goes by the name Showboat and he can be a bit annoying at times with his over the top demeanor, acting like it is minor league baseball instead of low-level college hoops. Regardless, the overall atmosphere is healthy and fun and you should enjoy your time here.
The campus is about four miles from the Garden State Parkway, quite small and surrounded by quiet residential areas. Midway between the highway and the campus lies the Monmouth Mall, the largest shopping center in the area, and there are a number of family restaurants such as Chili's, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Applebee's around there but I did not notice any establishments worth stopping for. The northern edges of the Jersey Shore is just a mile east. There are a number of bars and restaurants that cater to Monmouth students, and although they are probably not hopping in the winter, they seem to be the only places worth checking out if you are looking for something to do before or after the game.
Even when the arena is 95% full many fans don't seem particularly interested in the game itself. A large number of the student section had cleared out at halftime during my most recent visit (I believe many belonged the football team, there for Miles Austin's jersey retirement ceremony), but even the fans in the areas I sat were having more fun playing pranks on each other than taking in the action. Seating arrangements are haphazard in some places and I was forced to take a spot up top, not a problem in a small arena such as this but something that could be annoying if you had a good seat to begin with. Overall, the fans don't really seem to care if the team wins or loses.
If you are living in or visiting New York City and want to get out to Monmouth, transit is probably your best option if you don't have a car. New Jersey Transit's North Jersey Coast Line takes just over 90 minutes to the Long Branch station, with some trains requiring a transfer at Newark Penn Station. From Long Branch, you can try the two mile walk to the MAC or take a bus. Check Google Maps or NJ Transit for details. Fares are not cheap, with an off-peak one-way ride going for $15. Elberon is the other nearby station, but that is about 1.5 miles from the MAC so you might save a few minutes if your train stops there. If you decide to drive, use Google Map's avoid tolls option to plan the cheapest route, which will take about 90 minutes from Manhattan including traffic.
More than likely though, you will be driving through the area, which is definitely the preferred option. Monmouth is about four miles east of the Garden State Parkway, exit 105 onto Route 36 then right onto Route 71. The Parkway is a toll road, but not ridiculously overpriced like some. Parking is free on campus and there are two lots right next to the entrance off Larchwood Avenue.
Inside the arena, there is plenty of room to move around. The Leon Hess Champions Hall has TVs along the walls that are tuned to the game and other sports channels, which make a nice halftime distraction. The seats have small chair backs that fold up, and are comfortable enough, although you might be a bit cramped if your row is full. Washrooms are next to the main concession stand and are more than enough for the crowd.
Standing at the northwest corner of campus, the MAC is a good looking building with a white roof over beige bricks. Visiting at night I was unable to capture it properly with a photo, but it definitely still has that new venue feel. The box office is right next to the entrance, and tickets are $12 at the window for center court seats in the upper section. The court is not big, so there are no bad vantage points here.
You may prefer to stand behind the end zone here as it gives you a better view of the play developing and leaves you closer to the concession stand, as well as giving you room to move around and take pictures from different angles. Although the team was terrible in the 2013-2014 campaign, the overall atmosphere, free parking, good food options, and cheap tickets make this an unexpectedly good road trip destination.
The sculpture of a large hawk out front of the MAC is quite nice and worth a point.
A point for the TVs showing the game above the concession stands, as well as those in the Leon Hess Champions Hall, which were tuned to other college basketball games that evening.
Finally, a point for all the free stuff being given out by sponsors throughout the complex.
Monmouth is not a school that most people know about and certainly only true college hoopheads would be adding this one to their bucket list. But if you enjoy live sports and are in Northern New Jersey at some point, you should consider a visit to the MAC. This is one place where you can't judge the book by its cover; the Multipurpose Activity Center offers a lot more than you would expect from a small college program like Monmouth and is worth a look for any stadium traveler.
Member Review by noahmazzeo on Sep 24, 2014
I am currently in Monmouth's Pep Band and I play and every home basketball game and select away games. 2014 was a big year for Monmouth is renovations. We received new logo marks, a new FCS Football conference (Big South Conference), and received new football turf, and a new basketball court design with our new logos. The atmosphere is nice too. We are playing Rutgers (Big Ten) at home in december this year which would probably be sold out. We retired former Monmouth Football star/current NFL star Miles Austin's jersey to a sold out crowd last season. Monmouth also renovated their soccer field with unbreakable turf, a new scoreboard, with bleachers going from goal to goal. After the 2014 football season, Monmouth will be renovating the stadium seating area. Eventually we will improve to seating in the backfield. Monmouth is improving everyday.
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