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Official Review by David Mortimer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, the UCCU Center is a microcosm of UVU itself. The school was known as Utah Valley State College until 2008, when it achieved four-year university status. A year later, UVU became a full Division I member after a seven-year provisional wait. The rapid rise of the program culminated with a naming rights deal for the former David O. McKay Events Center with Utah Community Credit Union in August 2010.
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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 lot of space designated for concessions, but only one window was open for this game. Even so, you can get a lot in just one place. Entree-wise, you have pizza or a teriyaki chicken bowl on the high end ($5.50) followed by a $5 burger combo, a $3.50 BBQ pork sandwich and $3 for a "Chicago Dog."
Snack options include "Nachos Supreme" ($3.50; 50 cents more for extra cheese), not-as-supreme nachos ($3), popcorn, churros, pretzels or a jumbo candy bag (all $2.50) and a candy bar ($1.50).
For drinks, you have Pepsi products ($2.50 reg., $3 jumbo), bottled juice, Gatorade or Exude, a locally-made sports drink ($2.50), a can of Rockstar ($2.50), bottled water ($2), milk ($1.50) or coffee ($1).
Attending a game at the UCCU Center has nearly all the elements of a quality college basketball experience; a small but supportive crowd, an army of enthusiastic cheerleaders, an interactive mascot in Willy the Wolverine and just the right amount of promotional tie-ins. For whatever reason, though, I felt like there was still something lacking. One is a pep band; the fight song is played over the loudspeaker, which diminishes the collegiate experience.
The other, I believe, is beyond UVU's control: its conference affiliation in the Great West. For starters, the schools are so spaced out (from UVU to the New Jersey Institute of Technology) that there are no natural in-conference rivals for fans to get excited over. Second, NCAA bylaws dictate that the Great West as presently constituted must wait until 2020 to qualify for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. (The GWC tournament champion does get an automatic bid to the CIT tournament). Without something more glamorous to play for, the games feel somewhat hollow.
UVU is the quintessential commuter college, bordered on the west by Interstate 15 and surrounded by major roadways. That limits, however, the ability to find good, unique eats close by. Unless, that is, you come to a Friday game. In that case, you can eat at Greg's Restaurant, located in the UCCU Center's lower level. Greg's is where UVU's culinary arts students put their skills to the test with a different cuisine style each week. Be aware that you can only get into Greg's by reservation.
Any other night, you'll have to travel up the hill on University Parkway for pre or post-game grub. One unique sandwich shop is The Italian Place (1086 S. State; 2.3 miles away). It prides itself on its Philly cheesesteaks in either half, full or "Monster" sizes. You can either get just "Steak 'n' Cheese" or go with the "Steak 'n' Everything" with mushrooms, green peppers, onions and tomatoes. If you don't want steak, they also have pastrami, turkey and ham sandwiches available. You can also get your steak or turkey in a salad, if you wish.
As with any college team, the fan critique begins with the student section. UVU's is named the MAWL (Mighty Athletic Wolverine League). You can't miss them thanks to the giant MAWL banner overhead and the MAWL logo on the court in front of them. About 15 students were in place at tip-off, a number which about doubled midway through the first half. Almost each one was decked out in his or her green MAWL t-shirt, a positive sign the students were engaging themselves. I was surprised, though, that the MAWL didn't make noise when the opponent had the ball until cued by the cheerleaders.
The rest of the 1,313 in attendance did the right things at the right times, but UVU's game-long domination kept things mostly mellow. One fan behind me seemed determined to be the loudest person in the arena on foul shots. Most of the time he had no competition, instead garnering looks and laughs from most of his fellow fans.
The lot closest to the UCCU Center costs $3 to get into. There are a vast number of student parking spaces nearby, but the hours of enforcement aren't clearly marked, so park in those at your own risk depending on game day and time.
Each end of the concourse has a set of perhaps the largest bathrooms I've seen in an arena. Even at full capacity, you have plenty of width to maneuver your way through without any hassle.
Like I mentioned earlier, all of the components of a quality game experience were in place, but the feeling surrounding the program (and, thus, its home) isn't as energized as it could be if UVU were in a different league. UVU has done well throughout its time in the Great West, but I believe a change of scenery would bring more life in the program. As a result, the UCCU Center experience would become more valuable and worthwhile to both the casual and rabid Wolverine fan.
One point for UVU's "lights out" player introductions. Even though it's a "small-time" program, adding this special touch makes players and fans get that much more excited. Just one small step from small-time to big-time.
As UVU continues to carve out its niche in the Utah sports scene, the UCCU Center has the potential to become a consistently exciting venue. The best-case scenario is if UVU becomes a member of an established conference such as the WAC (as has been rumored) and establishes significant natural rivalries. That combination would significantly elevate both the program and its home. In other words, a good experience now is on the brink of becoming great soon.
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