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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The University of Florida is the largest public university in the state of Florida, with an enrollment of more than 50,000 students. Founded in 1853, the school is located in Gainesville, Florida, approximately 60 miles west of Jacksonville.
The Gator basketball program is always competitive in the Southeastern Conference, as well as the NCAA tournament each March. Over the years, the University of Florida has brought home six SEC titles, appeared in four Final Fours and won two National championships, winning back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. It has also produced several NBA stars over the years, including Al Horford and Joakim Noah.
The Stephen C. O’Connell Center is the home court for the team, and it is located just down the street from “The Swamp” i.e. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, home to the football Gators. The “O’ Dome,” as it is called by students, was built in 1980 and seats 11,548 people in its basketball configuration. In addition to the basketball arena, it contains an indoor track and field facility, the swimming pool and the gymnastics facility for the school. The multipurpose use of this venue makes it impossible to circle the arena on the outside concourse, as the pool and gymnastic facilities create roadblocks, forcing fans into the more crowded inner concourse overlooking the arena to get around.
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".
For many years the University of Florida has had a very admirable policy of using non-profit organizations to operate its concession stands, with a percentage of the sales going to the organization to further its mission. This is no mom-and-pop operation, as the volunteers who run these stands have been doing this in some cases for more than 10 years. As far as concession products, UF uses Pepsi products as its beverage provider (sodas are $4.50 and water and Gatorade are $4). Some of its more unique food products include the Swamp Dog at $5 (w/chili, sauerkraut, coleslaw cheese, onions and jalapeno peppers) and the Smoked in the Swamp pulled pork sandwich ($7). Other offerings include Domino's pizza, burgers, chicken tenders and turkey legs, all at $6.
Intimidating is the best way to describe the O'Connell Center, as the Gators boast a winning percentage greater than .850 in home games over the last decade-plus. The seats are very close to the floor, and the noise during a game can be deafening. ESPN has called it the "Scariest Place to Play in the Country" in its basketball pre-season preview show. Visiting teams not only face a great basketball team, they also have to deal with a sellout crowd at nearly every game, the very loud pep band and the bright blue and orange color scheme throughout the facility. The noise generated by the crowd often drowns out the opposition's coach's instructions to his players, and it is not unusual for the visitors to have their timeout meetings in the middle of the court in order to hear each other.
The O'Connell Center is located in the middle of UF's athletic complex. Its neighbors include the UF baseball stadium, track and field stadium, gymnastics facility, swim center and softball field. Located nearby is West University Avenue, home to many of the restaurants, bars and stores that serve the student body. Among the more popular restaurants and bars are The Brass Tap, the First Magnitude Brewing Company, Vellos' Brickstreet Grill and The Swamp. Accommodations within walking distance of the campus and the O'Connell Center include the Holiday Inn University Center, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Hampton Inn Gainesville Downtown.
Florida Gator basketball fans are just as rabid as their football brethren. It is impossible to ignore them, as the bright orange and blue outfits they wear are among the loudest in the league. There is a non-stop crescendo of the Gator-bait cheer and Gator Chomp motion with the arms and hands. The student sections have the closest seats to the floor and are known as the "Rowdy Reptiles" for their constant disruption of the visitors' concentration and foul line shots. Leading the fans in all this commotion are Albert and Alberta Gator, the menacing mascots for all UF athletic competitions. I would rate the Rowdy Reptiles second only to the Cameron Crazies in their ability to cheer on the home team.
As you can imagine, with a 50,000 student body, you are dealing with a very large campus and very limited parking. The university has very specific parking areas set aside for students, boosters at various contribution levels and visitors. Visitors or single-game ticket holders are directed to park at the Commuter Parking Lot and Garage V at Gale Lemerand Drive and Museum Road. The Fast Break Shuttle will then provide you with a free ride directly to the O'Connell Center. Busses begin running two hours before tip-off and continue until 60 minutes after the game ends. There are a very limited number of public parking spaces located off campus along West University Avenue.
Once you are at the arena, access is fair. There are a limited number of entry portals, and the outer concourse does not circumnavigate the building. The concession areas are on the outer concourse, which does not allow you a view of the game. Concession stands are limited in number so you should expect long lines, especially at halftime.
One other quirk of the arena is the placement of the scoreboards. Rather than hanging over the court, or at the ends of the court, there are four small boards in each of the four corners between the upper and lower seating areas. I found this very visually distracting.
Prices for tickets are $25 or less to see top-ten basketball being played, which is a bargain. Add to that free parking and a free shuttle to deliver you right in front of the O'Connell Center. The concessions are somewhat on the high side, but profits go partially to the charities running the stands, so it is a win/win situation for all.
Alligator Alley is open before all weekend games. It features interactive games, autograph sessions with past Gator greats, musical entertainment and door prizes. If your interest is more towards seeing actual alligators, then head over to the Lake Alice Nature Preserve on campus to visit the namesake neighbors.
Member Review by JimFolsom on Feb 01, 2012
The O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida is home to the Florida Gators. It is mostly known for the men's basketball team, but is also the home of several other Gator sports such as women's basketball, men's and women's indoor track, women's volleyball and women's gymnastics and even men's and women's swimming and diving.
Member Review by BillVol on Apr 04, 2014
I've been here 3 or 4 times. They took the inflatable roof off the place a few years ago, so you don't get knocked off your feet anymore by the wind tunnel when you enter. 100% credit to Billy Donovan for building a national powerhouse at a school and in a state where college basketball is not even an afterthought. A depressing place to watch a basketball game.
Member Review by rene on Sep 25, 2015
You probably could not have picked a worse game to go to and do this review. I know this because I was at this game as well. There is a world of difference in going to a game against a non conference opponent in a down year as opposed to say the Kentucky game of the previous year. The excitement of that game and the noise level were off the charts. You literally had to yell at the person next to you for them to hear you the entire game. And after the game was over and the Gators were cutting the nets down after finishing off a perfect 18-0 SEC season, about half of the fans crowded around the court to watch it. I know because I was at that game as well.
1620 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32603
1642 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32603
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