The Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) hosts their basketball tournament at the Richmond Coliseum. The Coliseum is just a few blocks from the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) campus. The Coliseum is 41-years-old and is a bit worn, but works well for hosting the CAA tournament, something it has done for 15 years.
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Outside there was a huge offering of food. You could get just about anything you wanted from pizza to Philly steak and cheese ($9) to crab cakes ($9). They had oyster baskets ($14), cheeseburgers ($5) and even a $20 seafood platter. The best deal outside was probably a hot dog for $3 or two for $5.
If you could think about wanting it, you could probably find it. Plus, the outside food was a necessity with the cramped concourses and older building. It was a good solution to a space problem.
Once inside, the food options were a bit more limited, but decent. You could get Papa John's personal pizza for $8, a corndog ($4) or gyro for $6. If you wanted sweets, the funnel cake looked amazing for $5 or popcorn was in a gigantic bucket for $6.
Drinks were Pepsi products and large a 32oz cup was $5. Bottled water and soda were $3, actually a slightly better deal than the fountain options. Beer was available outside for $5 for a nice sized cup.
The atmosphere was amazing. With VCU being in the championship game versus Drexel, the game was sold out. From 30 minutes before the game started to well after the final buzzer sounded, the crowd was loud, energetic and engaged. The best basketball atmosphere I have ever witnessed.
The conference also did an amazing job of letting each team's pep band, cheerleaders and dance teams get equal playing and face time. Never once did the bands play on top of each other as the staff kept all parties informed about whose turn it was to perform.
If you have never seen the VCU pep band play, well, add it to your bucket list. It is worth the price of admission alone.
Finally, when the game was over, the conference even encouraged the winning team's fans to rush the court and join their team in celebration. While it wasn't as controlled as the conference had hoped, it was one of the most fan-friendly things I have witnessed.
The area where the Richmond Coliseum is located is right in the heart of the city. Located next door to the convention center, it is easy to find something to do while in town. The Museum of the Confederacy is located just three blocks away, and is a place I recommend.
The entire area is rich with history, particularly from the Civil War era. You could spend four or five days in the area visiting all of the great museums and historical sites.
There is a Marriott just a block away, although it is a bit overpriced due to demand. That was my one knock on the area, you had to either spend a lot on a hotel or stay 15 minutes or so away from the coliseum. Overall, a minor inconvenience to keep the historic buildings.
If you wanted something to eat, T Miller's Sports Bar and Grill was recommended from the locals and was just around the corner from the Marriott. The food wasn't anything spectacular, but it was easy to get to and had a nice number of TV's and beer options.
As outlined in the atmosphere section, the fans were loud. They really made the experience complete. The CAA final almost always sells out, and I can see why. The basketball was very good. It was a spirited game where you could feel the tension. The fans were so engaged and reacted to every single play, call and non-call.
The best was how polite everyone was who sat around me. My seats were in a balcony section with only one row of seats and very cramped. The railing obstructed the view, so you had to sit at odd angles, but everyone worked with each other and made sure they didn't block the view of others. It was extremely refreshing to see such courtesy exhibited in the stands.
Access was a mixed bag. Parking was not too hard to find, as there were a few garages and lots around that had $5 parking. Also, Leigh Street where Richmond Coliseum is located has sections where street parking is free starting just two blocks from the coliseum. These spots open at 6pm and the championship game started at 7pm. Thankfully I came by at just a few minutes after 6 and I was able to get a free spot just two blocks from the coliseum.
When I got to the arena, I had to find the proper gate for public will call. Each entrance had plenty of signs to tell you where to go, but once I made my way through the long line, I found out that the staff wasn't keeping the lines separated despite the signs. I had to get in another, albeit shorter line, to retrieve my ticket.
The concourses inside the building were tight and oddly built. Staircases to upper level seats were just marked with pieces of paper and some had no lights. It was easy to find my seat, but the building is in need of an upgrade. For as many events as they hold there each year, more money should have been put into improvements each year.
Bathrooms were ok, but certainly not modern.
Tickets were a bit expensive for basketball. Face value was $25, which wasn't too bad, but a series of odd fees made the final price over $38. The game was great, and the atmosphere even better, so it was worth the price.
The colonial drum and fife group that played the star spangled banner was a great touch. The handling of the space issue by having outside food was a good idea. Also closing a couple of the cramped, inconvenient located concession stands to make food, thus making lines move faster at the better located stands was brilliant.
Final extra point is for allowing fans onto the court to celebrate the NCAA tournament bid. Even when the students rushed and fell over, the staff handled the situation well and quickly, preventing injury to the 20 or so people who could have easily been crushed or trampled.
The Richmond Coliseum is certainly well-worn, but there is a difference between well-worn and crumbling. Sure, the coliseum could really use about a $20 million renovation, but it fits the size of the CAA tournament and is located in a great area.
Maybe some year the CAA might have to move to the Verizon Center in Washington DC or the Comcast Center on the campus of Maryland, but I think their best option is to stay in Richmond if at all possible.
If you want to attend a mid-major tournament, the CAA tournament is the one I recommend.
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