With all the talk about the “Catholic 7” leaving the Big East Conference, a lot of history and conference rivalries will be leaving with them. Teams like Georgetown and Marquette have storied histories with bigger than life coaches (John Thompson, Sr. and Al McGuire) that brought championships and national attention to small, basketball only schools. Of the seven schools leaving, Villanova leaves the Big East with its own piece of history. In 1985, as an eight-seed in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats played the Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas in the national championship game. Villanova shot 79% from the field that night, and defeated Georgetown 66-64 in what many consider the greatest upset in tournament history. There was also another history-making event that happened to the Wildcats in 1985. Construction began on The Pavilion, an on-campus field house that would serve as the home of the basketball program. Seating 6,500, it dwarfed the capacity of the old Villanova Field House and would be an appropriate venue for a national champion.
Initially, the Pavillion was named the “John Eleuthere du Pont Pavilion”, after its chief benefactor. That name was changed to just “The Pavilion”, after du Pont was convicted of murdering Dave Schultz, an Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestler. It was built with a distinct hyperbolic paraboloid roof, which sets it apart from the gothic buildings on Villanova’s campus. While the Wildcats play the bulk of their schedule on campus, the team plays rival opponents like Syracuse and Georgetown at the Philadelphia 76ers home arena, The Wells Fargo Center. The Pavilion offers a great intimate atmosphere to watch quality Division 1 basketball, and the student section behind one of the baskets is loud and proud. While the arena might be showing a little age, it has character and good sightlines. Let’s take a closer look at what makes The Pavilion a big home court advantage for the Wildcats.
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Ah, Philadelphia. It is the land of cheesesteaks, crab fries and Italian meats. When I visited Villanova Stadium earlier this year, the standout food items came from an Italian catering company called Luigi and Giovanni. Luckily for the basketball fan, the same company has a stand inside The Pavilion. They serve Italian hoagies, fried mozzarella, eggplant parmesan and cannolis. The items are priced from $5 to $8 dollars, and are some of the best stadium food on the east coast. There are also regular concessions available, all reasonably priced at $3 and under. Give Villanova credit -- it doesn't seem as though they are trying to fleece the fan at the stadium or arena. Alcohol is not served at The Pavilion unless you're a high roller. There is a spot in a curtained-off area where it appeared the alcohol was freely flowing.
I'm a sucker for college basketball. It's my favorite spectator sport to watch. One of the many reasons why I enjoy it so much is the intensity the students bring to the games. I certainly wasn't disappointed by Villanova's student section. They occupy a giant set of bleachers under one of the baskets. They chant and yell and try to distract the opposition. The main seats are filled with alumni and families wearing Wildcats hats and shirts. While the Pavilion doesn't have a replay screen, it does have an in-house DJ that spins tunes during timeouts and halftime. The crowd truly loves their Wildcats, and they are not afraid to turn up the noise when the team needs them.
Villanova is located on the Main Line in Philadelphia. Picture where the Duke Brothers lived in Trading Places and you have a good idea on how ritzy an area it is (there is a Ferrari/Maserati dealership almost right across the street from the campus). My buddy and I stopped in Kelly's Taproom before the game, which is located a few blocks off campus. They had an excellent beer selection (try Yards, a local microbrew) and we polished off some good wings and nachos. The Taproom has sort of a hunting lodge motif to it, and the NFL package was displayed on a number of flat screens. There are several other college bars located on Lancaster Avenue just outside of campus.
The student section was packed for a non-conference game against Delaware. It seemed as though the team and the students fed off each other's enthusiasm, which I think can only be seen at an on-campus field house. While the student section is located on one half of the arena, the other sections were rather silent. One of the unusual things about the Pavilion is the disjointed layout. The building is actually pretty massive, and has a full Olympic track. Because of the layout and the roof, sections are pretty far apart from each other and it can be quite complicated to get to the opposite side of the arena. There is an ample security presence, but it seemed as though you could move down to a better seat after halftime.
Villanova is very easy to find either by car or by public transportation. If you're driving on I-76 (the Schuylkill Expressway aka "The Sure-Kill"), look for signs directing you to the university. There is an ample parking lot located right across the street from the football stadium and the cost to park is $5. If you're taking public transportation, you can take the SEPTA train from 30th Street Station in downtown Philadelphia to the on-campus Villanova stop for about $4.
There is a flat $23 cost for a ticket at the Pavilion. This is a very intimate facility, so you're guaranteed a good seat almost anywhere. There is one problem with the section located behind the opposite basket from the student section, however. People continuously walk in front of you due to the configuration of the access tunnels to the section. If you're on the lower level, you're extremely close to the court. All in all, this is not a bad price to see one of the finer programs in the country.
There is a nice photographic mural of the 1985 Villanova National Championship team in the lobby of the Pavilion.
Located across the street from the Pavillion is the basketball building, which displays all the hardware that the Wildcats have won throughout the years. My visit was the first time I've ever seen a national championship trophy that close. There is also a nice audiovisual display of Villanova's basketball history in the building.
There is a minimal scoreboard presence inside the Pavilion. All the crowd noise that is generated is organic, and not prompted by a Jumbotron. While the display is not optimal for watching replays, it is kind of nostalgic not to have a giant screen in your face. This makes it easier to concentrate on the game.
It is understandable why Villanova plays their big opponents at the Wells Fargo Center. The Pavilion may be a bit too small for a game against Syracuse or a non-conference opponent like Duke. What the bigger venue can't duplicate is the intimacy that an on-campus arena can offer. Whichever conference becomes Villanova's new home, they can count on the support of the student body and alumni at the Pavilion to provide a great home-court advantage.
An odd shaped structure with a multi-angled roofline that results in many seats with obstructed views. It reminds me some of Jadwin Gym at Princeton. The student section is generally vocal but the adult alumni tend not to get into the atmosphere even in close contests.
Due to seating restrictions imposed by their township during construction there are no tickets available except those being resold by season ticket holders.
There was ample free parking nearby across Lancaster Ave however there are rumors of a major construction effort there to create more campus housing so this may change. For public transportation busses run right by the campus on Lancaster Avenue and the Norristown High Speed line's Villanova stop is just behind those current parking lots.
The Septa Paoli line Villanova station is a long walk from the Pavillion and unless you know where you are going in advance I wouldn't recommend it.
Casual fans or those on the season ticket waiting list can always get seats for many of the games at the (currently named) Wells Fargo Arena at the professional stadium complex in South Philadelphia.
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