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Official Review by Afi Ahmadi, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
As a Division I basketball conference outside of the Power 5, the America East Conference is generally defined as a “mid-major.” The reality, however, is that the level of basketball can more appropriately be categorized as “low-major,” as the competitiveness of its basketball programs simply cannot keep up with the Atlantic-10s and Horizon Leagues of the mid-major world. The primary reason for this distinction tends to reside in the bottom half of conference, where the bad teams are very bad, consequently dragging down the conference’s reputation as a whole.
The University of Albany has taken the conference lead in trying to reverse that image. A model of consistency over the past decade, the rafters at SEFCU Arena are adorned by the numerous banners of success for both the men’s and women’s basketball program, all of which has occurred within the past 10 years.
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".
SEFCU Arena generally provides typical small-arena offerings (pretzels, hot dogs, popcorn, chicken tenders, LOTS of candy, all costing anywhere from $3 - $5). The venue offers fountain Coca-Cola products. There is one concession area, with two lines, located on the right side of the lobby as you enter through the main doors. Because all of the food is pre-prepared and pre-wrapped, the line moves quickly enough. Credit and debit cards are accepted.
There is a hidden "Beer Garden" down a hallway to the right as you face the concession area. It's not a secret (there is a sign directing you to it), it's just not obvious or plainly visible from the lobby. The use of the term "garden" is stretched as far as conceivably possible here. It's basically just an undecorated room with a bar at one end and a series of round tables. Nonetheless, it's a nice alternative if you're of age.
SEFCU Arena appears to be the right size and has the proper ambience for this level of basketball, but it also has a couple of noteworthy deficiencies. The scoreboard is the primary culprit. Outdated and tired, it only offers options for two teams: "Albany" and "Visitor." The scoreboard also lacks any space to identify current player scoring or timeouts remaining, a staple most fans have become accustomed to at most other venues. There is a large projector screen in one corner offering occasional replays and halftime statistics, but overall one would expect to have certain information available at a glance, which simply does not exist. It also doesn't help matters that the public address announcer rarely provides the identity of the person committing the foul, or even a scorer. Perhaps there was an issue with the microphone or audio during my most recent visit, because the lack of information was very noticeable.
Albany is never going to get confused for a quaint college town, but for the purpose of attending a college basketball game you could certainly do much worse. There are ample hotels and eateries just a few minutes from the arena, so no complaints about not being able to find a room or get a table. In addition to standard chain restaurants that lurk around campuses, the locals generally recommend favorites Across the Street Pub, and Maggie's. Each offer pub fare while providing the opportunity to watch games. A more upscale nearby option is Barcelona, a Mediterranean restaurant, but reservations are recommended if a large crowd is anticipated for the game.
For a small, one-bid conference, most America East teams tend to have a bit of a die-hard following, and Albany is no exception. For the most part, the fan base is made up of community members and alums. When students do attend, they generally sit in the "Danger Zone" (named for the Albany mascot, the Great Dane), which is located under the basket closest to the opposing bench. Students generally generate the extra emotion which can be lacking for a regular season conference game. Venue intimacy gets an assist in keeping the arena loud throughout.
The arena is an easy find on campus, accessible via near-parallel streets on each side. It's also just a short drive through campus when coming off the highway, making access a non-issue.
SEFCU Arena provides a couple of parking lots containing ample space for a nominal fee. It would be difficult not to find a relatively convenient parking spot. Bathrooms inside the arena are convenient and easy to find (immediately to the right and left as you enter the lobby).
Seats with chair backs are located in the center and the first few rows behind each bench, and cost $18 per ticket, while the remaining reserved seats are $12. As noted, the food and beverage is fairly priced. While nobody will mistake the quality of play with its major conference brethren, the America East is certainly a competitive conference within itself, and the quality of the product on the floor makes the ticket cost almost nominal.
The most notable halftime promotion during my recent visit was a game of musical chairs, where contestants were each given a basketball at center court, and dribbled around a series of chairs. When the music stopped, the participants had to dribble to the nearest basket, make a layup, and return to the center to take a seat. Of course, when the players disbursed, chairs were removed from the middle, leaving one or more contestants without a seat upon return. This took place for approximately five to six rounds, until a winner was crowned, walking away with a flat screen TV. As far as halftime entertainment goes, it was quite engaging. All other promotions and t-shirt tosses are nothing that a regular basketball spectator doesn't become numb to after a while, so such items fail to stand out as extra entertainment.
Much of the entertainment slack is adequately absorbed by a solid pep band and dance team.
Unquestionably, the amenities at SEFCU Arena need modernization. On the plus side, when the energy level is high, you feel like you're in a Hoosiers-type setting. Conversely, a Hoosiers-type setting doesn't really pass in 2016. For the conference's premier men's and women's basketball programs, a little investment seems justified. It's unclear whether such changes would garner more student support, but it would certainly approve the overall fan experience.
Member Review by thereitstuff on Nov 29, 2012
The University at Albany basketball program is a recognizable Division-I program, but they belong to a university where student support is almost non-existent, despite two trips to the NCAA Tournament in the last six years, including nearly becoming the 1st 16 seed to ever beat a 1 seed, leading UCONN by 12 in the second half in 2006. Early in the 2012-2013 season, the Great Danes pulled off the biggest regular season win in school history by shocking Pac-12 conference member Washington playing AT Washington; and yet, few students even knew about it.
UAlbany has produced no NBA talent, though some of the school’s more recognizable players have gone on to play overseas after graduation (Jamar Wilson, Jason Siggers, and Tim Ambrose). Gerardo Suero made quite a splash in his one season at UAlbany, finishing in the top 10 in Division I in points per game, before leaving after his junior season to play professionally. The lack of fan support and enthusiasm around the team on campus, though, takes a lot away from what has the possibility of being an awesome experience.
Member Review by Afi Ahmadi on Mar 12, 2014
For several years, the majority of the America East Conference basketball tournament has been hosted by one of the participating schools. In both 2013 and 2014, the host was the University of Albany, and the site of the tournament was SEFCU Arena conveniently located on the UAlbany campus. The conference combines both the women’s and men’s tournaments in one weekend at the singular location. Although the sessions require separate admissions, it does add a layer of convenience for those fans who cross over between the two events.
The women’s quarterfinals are played on Friday, the men’s quarters on Saturday, and the semifinals for both are played Sunday. This year, the women’s champion was crowned at the tournament site on the Monday following tournament weekend. The only game not played during the tournament weekend is the men’s championship game, which is held one week later at the home site of the highest remaining seed.
The fact that Albany, or any school for that matter, can host the bulk of the tournament on its own home court does not come without some controversy. By way of tangible, instant examples, the number one men’s seed in both 2013 and 2014, the Stony Brook Seawolves and Vermont Catamounts, respectively, were each upended by the host Albany Great Danes, the fourth seed each year, in the semifinals. Few in attendance doubt that the home court advantage played some role in the result.
Accordingly, beginning in the 2014-2015 season, the men’s tournament will be eliminated, and replaced with a “playoff” format used in similar small conferences, with each game hosted on the home court of the higher seed. The objective for the conference is to protect its higher seeds as much as possible, attempting to assure that the conference, a traditional one-bid league, will send its best team into the NCAA tournament. The downside is that fans and players will no longer get to enjoy a tournament environment, watching as many games as possible, along with requisite fanfare, camaraderie and hostility. The relative importance of these priorities varies greatly depending upon who you ask.
1238 Western Ave
Albany, NY 12203
1186 Western Ave
Albany, NY 12203
1192 Western Ave
Albany, NY 12203
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