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Official Review by Bryce Stevenson, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The Stephen C. O’Connell Center serves at the nexus for all non football and baseball related athletics at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Known amongst Gator faithful as the “O’Dome,” it houses the newly renovated Exactech Arena, home of the Gators’ men’s and women’s basketball teams. It is situated along the northern part of UF’s campus, across Gale Lemerand Drive from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Originally opened in 1980, the O’Dome closed after the 2015-2016 basketball season to undergo an extensive renovation. A large scoreboard over center court, brand new seats, luxury suites and brand new locker rooms were included in the renovation, and the newly christened Exactech Arena was opened at the end of 2016. In addition to the primary arena, the building houses practice courts for basketball, gyms, an indoor track, and a gymnastics practice area.
Post-renovation, the arena can hold 10,133 in a basketball configuration. The facility also hosts large concerts for the UF and Gainesville community in addition to university events like job fairs and local expos.
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's a wide range of food and drink options at the O'Connell Center. Stadium staples like nachos, popcorn and hot dogs are available, while someone who is concerned with counting calories can purchase a hummus or grilled chicken wrap. Your mileage may vary on the healthiness associated with these items, but their presence reflects a growing trend within the concessions business towards a bit more consciousness towards eating habits. Food quality falls in line with what you would expect for stadium food.
Food prices are average. A few of the highlights are the Grilled Chicken Caesar Wrap for $8, Hummus and Veggie Wrap for $8, Personal Domino's Pizza for $8 and a BBQ Pork Sandwich for $8. Hot dogs are $4 and sodas run from $4.50 to $5.50.
There is no alcohol served inside the O'Connell Center. Best options for a pre game beer or cocktail are across University Avenue in the Midtown area of Gainesville.
While most people think of the University of Florida as a football school, Gator fans bring the same intensity and high expectations to the basketball program. Billy Donovan's men's basketball team won back to back national championships in 2006 and 2007, giving the Gator Nation a taste of success that must be satisfied. That excellence contributed to funding the massive renovation undertaken to update the arena.
The new design proves how committed the university is to basketball. The new O'Dome includes a very wide and open welcoming concourse, greeting fans who enter through the main entrance across from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The entrance features the iconic Gators logo built into the floor. A ticket office, merchandise booth and several concessions line the outside of the huge space.
The seating area of the arena is beautiful. High quality padded seats with cupholders have been installed throughout every section. The seating arrangement is designed for purely basketball, ensuring that there are no wastes of space around the edges of the court. A new scoreboard drops from the roof, showing unobstructed views of the great content created by the athletic department. There are additional scoreboards situated in the corners, rotating between replays, team stats and individual player box scores. The design of the graphics on all of the scoreboards are seamless and easy to read while displaying a lot of information.
I've wrestled with an eloquent way to say this and keep striking out, so excuse my bluntness: the O'Dome is loud. Very loud. The roof is made of a hard shell material which works to amplify the voices of the student Rowdy Reptiles and the rest of the fans. Crowd involvement and passion helps differentiate college sports from the professional leagues, and the O'Dome serves as an excellent showcase for enthusiasm.
The seats are angled perfectly for a basketball game, ensuring a good view for almost anyone in attendance. The upper corners are a bit far from the court, but any seat in the first or second level or along the sidelines in the upper level will have a great view of the action. The first and second rows on the upper level may be partially obscured by the guard rails at the bottom of the section.
Alligator Alley is open in one of the practice gyms before each home game. Inside, fans can enjoy pop-a-shot basketball games, get pictures with the cheerleaders, or hang out with Albert and Alberta, the super cute alligator mascots. It's a perfect stop for any kids at the game.
There is one major flaw of the new design: tiny concourses. The upper level features no concession stands or bathrooms, resulting in those fans coming down to the only concourse. The Gators have had numerous sellouts this season, and the concourses become very difficult to navigate during halftime. Bathroom lines are also very long. Any trips to the bathroom or concession stands are recommended before or after halftime to avoid the tight concourse.
The O'Connell Center sits along the northern edge of the beautiful University of Florida campus. There are numerous midtown restaurants and bars right across University Boulevard offering food and drink for basketball fans.
About a mile east of the university, downtown Gainesville features a quieter weeknight crowd and offers some nice upscale food and drink options. The Top restaurant in downtown pairs great food with a well stocked bar and eclectic craft beer menu, appealing to almost anyone. If you are looking to reconnect with the wild around the Gainesville area, Payne's Prairie offers a beautiful nature preserve featuring alligators and other local wildlife.
The Rowdy Reptiles, UF students, bring the passion to every home basketball game. The most devoted students show up almost 2 hours before game time to guarantee one of the coveted courtside seats. Students are allowed to sit along the entire sideline across from the benches, putting them right on top of the action.
Florida fans have many crowd rituals, with the notorious gator chomp the most prominent. As the Gators run out onto the court, a soccer style tifo, or crowd banner, gets pulled up over the student section. The university has done a great job cultivating an active and enthusiastic student presence at games, and the passion they bring spreads throughout the arena.
Gainesville is notorious for congested roads, especially during the times leading up to a typical 7pm weeknight tip. Fans with permits can park in a garage adjacent to the arena. Other fans have many options for parking: most university permit lots are open parking after 5:30, with the largest facility being the commuter garage on Gale Lemerand and Museum Road. This garage is only a 5-7 minute walk from the arena and usually has plenty of spaces, making it a reliable option.
Fans can also use the excellent RTS bus system that runs throughout Gainesville, as long as they are certain the route will still be running for their trip home.
Gator basketball tickets are very affordable. Conference games - barring Kentucky - can run between $10-$25. Affordable food and free parking options make a UF basketball game a cost efficient entertainment option. Non-conference games are even cheaper and would be recommended for an inexpensive family outing. The Gators have played an exciting and winning brand of basketball in 2017, making the games very enjoyable.
There are many opportunities for exploration on the UF campus. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is open most of the time, giving football fans a chance to explore the stadium when it is empty.
Lake Alice is a short walk from the arena and offers a chance to glimpse alligators, turtles, bats, and other Florida wildlife in a serene setting.
A good arena that has served many memories was rebuilt with 21st century comfort and charm. An evening watching Gators basketball is a great activity for any fan.
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 lloyd.brown on Feb 02, 2015
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.
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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