La Salle University is a Roman Catholic university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was named for St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle. La Salle first admitted women students in 1970, becoming a fully co-educational institution. Nursing and Education are two of the largest majors at La Salle.
Sports teams at La Salle are named the Explorers. The name derives from a 1931 mistake made by a local sportswriter. The writer thought the university was named after the French explorer Sieur de La Salle, when in fact it is named after St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle. The students loved the mistake so much they adopted it in 1932.
Athletic teams are now part of the Atlantic 10 Conference. The men's and women's basketball teams also participate in the Philadelphia Big 5 with the University of Pennsylvania, Saint Joseph's University, Temple University, and Villanova University.
The men’s basketball program at La Salle has been rated the 53rd "Greatest College Basketball Program of All-Time" by Street & Smith's magazine and 71st by the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia. La Salle has won one National Championship (1954), one National Invitation Tournament Championship, and advanced to two Final Fours.
The Tom Gola Arena opened in 1998. That seems funny as the simple, antiquated design of this facility seems about 20 years earlier in design. That is because they retrofitted the top floor of an existing gym structure to house an arena. These compromises in design certainly show in the many issues that exist here.
Before the opening of the Tom Gola Arena, the team played home games at the Spectrum for a few years, as well as the old Philadelphia Convention Hall and Civic Center. They stopped playing on campus the year after their lone national championship.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There is a single concession stand that sits on the mezzanine level. It can get very crowded here and is pretty poorly designed. The design is so bad that the condiment table actually is placed in front of trophies and awards, including the National Championship memorabilia.
The good thing is that prices are very good, most items are $3 or less. But eat ahead of time.
There are two stands, one on each sideline. This simple design means that attendees sitting on the top few rows will be far from the action. It also means that fans will bunch and crowd between the doors and the stands. It is a bit of a mess. This is compounded by the fact that the bathrooms are next to the gym floor and add to that bunching and crowding effect. This design is very bad.
This is generally not the greatest atmosphere for college basketball. Fortunately, the level of competition in the Atlantic 10 Conference is very good. You may not totally enjoy the seating and atmosphere but the fine level of play makes up for that in many ways.
There is a band, mascot and cheerleaders to help out with the atmospherics.
The neighborhood is known as the Logan-Ogontz/Belfield Neighborhood. Whatever the name, it is frankly not the best. It is not unsafe or very bad, but it is not 100% great and awesome. If you wander away from campus, just be aware of your surroundings.
There are also not many businesses in the area except for the Explorers Den, which offers a very respectable cheesesteak. There is also a small shopping center that offers parking for games at the corner of Chew and Wister. The university owns this shopping center. The Fresh Grocer and Dunkin Donuts in this center are your only other options before games.
Eat before you get to the area is the best advice. Head into center city Philadelphia. Take advantage of options afforded by such a city. I would recommend the Good Dog Bar on 15th Street, close to Rittenhouse Square or Me 'N' Mo on South Street. Some of the best cheesesteaks are located at Philip's Steaks at 2234 West Passyunk Avenue for traditional Philly cheesesteaks. This is not one of the more touristy spots, but is still in a safe neighborhood and offers free parking. Philip's also has a surprisingly good cheeseburger for a cheesesteak joint. Just remember you have to buy the drinks and fries at a different window than your main entree, which is a strange and unique Philly tradition.
The fans here are pretty good. The Atlantic 10 offers great competition and the fans respond accordingly. The arena still does let them down a bit.
Access is fair. The university is located not too far from highways such as I-76 and I-95 but far enough that you have to drive through some rough, but not too bad neighborhoods to get there. If you venture too far east the neighborhoods do get worse.
Head for that shopping center at the corner of Chew and Wister for plenty of free parking.
The tickets are in the $15 to $20 range. For a fairly high level of competition, as well as free parking La Salle offers great value for attendees. If you do choose to eat at the games, prices are very good here as well.
It is nice to see the 1954 championship memorabilia, although maybe they can find a better place for condiments.
I will also give Tom Gola Arena credit in that the unique layout and design of the facility, at least in terms of the entrance, is certainly something to see.
I understand that the 1998 design of this arena was a compromise in using an existing building. But it still feels that LaSalle made so many poor design decisions that it seriously compromises the quality of the fan experience. You will still see high quality basketball, but in less than inviting environment.
While Philadelphia might be currently known for basketball powerhouses Temple and Villanova, the other three Big 5 schools aren't exactly slackers, either. La Salle has a national title to their name "" albeit in 1954 "" as part of back-to-back title game appearances, though the Explorers haven't made the NCAA tournament since 1992.
The Explorers played on-campus back in 1954 at Wister Hall, but spent the next 33 years playing away from 19th and Olney, moving back to the Tom Gola Arena when it was opened back in 1998. Part of the school's Hayman Center, the home of the school's athletic department, Gola seats 4000 in a clean, well-lit gym, though with very few bells-and-whistles.
Great college old time gym (even though it is fairly new).
Now that they are winning again the crowd is into it.
Do not take the subway unless you are armed!!!
I found the food above average.
Food and Beverage: Average, not overpriced, but located only in one spot in the gym.
Atmosphere: La Salle's atmosphere at Gola Arena is average at best and does not compare favorably to its Philly rivals. Definitely more of a high school gym vibe here as there are only seats along the sides of the court, no seats behind the baseline. There is not really much that stands out. Though the gym is relatively new (1998), it has no bells and whistles and feels like it was built on the cheap. They could have done better, I think, if the court was positioned differently.
Neighborhood: More than likely you'll be coming to see the game and getting back on the road to head back wherever you came from afterword. There is nothing noteworthy or worth sticking around for, as the neighborhood is pretty undesirable.
Fans: Fans vary here from laid back and passive to intense and angry. For most games, the student section is pretty disorganized and benign. For the Temple game (La Salle's North Philadelphia rival) the student section was packed and loud, but also uncreatively chanting vulgarities ("F*&k you Temple", clap clap clapclapclap) or throwing various objects, bottles, etc at the opponents section. Rivalry games seem to bring out the best, but mostly worst in the student section.
Access: La Salle is best accessed by Roosevelt Blvd (US-1) or Broad St and via some pretty sketchy areas. If not familiar with the area, definitely make sure you have some solid directions and you now where you are going. There is a free parking lot in front of the gym but it fills quickly and can be a mess to get out of after the game. There is another free campus lot across Wister St but it also can fill up during weekday games, though weekends seem to be fine. There is very limited on street parking and it is not advisable to venture more than a few blocks from the edge of campus. There is a subway stop at Broad and Olney, but this is not a good area and not something I'd want to try. Supposedly there is a free parking lot at the Shoppes at La Salle and a free shuttle though I've never tried it.
Once at Gola, there is only one way in and one way out at the south entrance to the gym, so it is a complete bottleneck/clusterf*^k when trying to leave at the end of the game.
Return on Investment: Seats start at $10 ($15 for Big 5 games), the cheapest ticket for any of the six college hoops programs in Philly. $15 will get you a "better" seat, although there are not really any bad seats here. Most seats are rollback bleachers, there are only a small seats with backs and I'd assume these are season ticket holders. Though I was not impressed by the venue or the atmosphere, the Explorers have rebounded on the court with a competitive team, so its at least a good product. Because the price of food and admission is low, and parking is free, it makes La Salle basketball worth going back to see again.
Extras: Extra points for the brand new video boards installed midway through this season. Due to the space confines, the boards are awkwardly placed, so when the action is going on, the boards show very useful stats (either players stats including points, rebounds, assists, or team stats including shooting %, free throw %, rebounds, etc.) I though this was pretty cool.
The program at La Salle University fits in with the tradition of Philadelphia basketball, as the Explorers have a rich history in the sport. The 1950s were the glory years for the small Catholic school, as the team won both an NCAA and NIT championship, led by Tom Gola. While La Salle saw bouts of varying success in the next few decades, recent history featured many losing seasons and a controversial scandal in 2004 that was the University’s low point. La Salle has since cleaned up the program, and winning has returned to the floor, as they thrilled fans and alumni with a Sweet 16 run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. After playing at various venues throughout the city, La Salle returned to campus in 1998 with the completion of Tom Gola Arena. Unfortunately, the building does not do the great Explorer justice, as there are several flaws in what should be considered a relatively new facility. With the program back on track, it is too bad they don’t play in a better home, but at least the fans make the building an enjoyable place for basketball.
A bit of a drive through northwest Philly to get to the campus. Free parking at the Shoppes at La Salle, a 2-minute walk from the arena. Tickets are $15 or $20, but patient fans can find freebies out front. Not much else around, limited concessions, but check out the displays in the concession room for a bit of history. This school won the 1954 NCAA championship and featured Lionel Simmons back in the late 1980s.
2160 West Olney Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19144
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2628 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19146