The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks basketball program returned to the Walkup Skydome for the 2012-13 season after spending two years at nearby Rolle Activity Center. The team moved to Rolle while the Skydome was undergoing a massive renovation project in 2010-11, and remained there for an extra year. The move back to the Skydome was a necessity for the program moving forward though, since Rolle is very rundown and out of date for a Division 1 program.
For basketball, the Skydome seats 7,000, using the east side football stands, plus some portable stands that surround the court. NAU plays in the Big Sky Conference in all sports except swimming and diving, who compete in the WAC. The basketball team has not seen success lately, but coach Jack Murphy took over in 2012 with hopes of returning the Jacks as a perennial contender for the conference championship. With his background at the University of Arizona, University of Memphis, and the Denver Nuggets, the athletics department is hoping he can bring in some of the bigger recruits to Flagstaff.
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The Skydome offers your typical hot dogs, nachos and sodas, all for a reasonable price. There is one concession stand on the main concourse when you enter the east side, and another down on the floor. NAU is a Pepsi school.
Although it's a football stadium, the basketball experience is still a solid one. A lot of improvements were made to the basketball set up after the renovation project as well. A brand new floor is not the only thing that is different. The seats that surround the court are much more comfortable, fold, and have cup holders. This was unheard of in the old days. The football seats are also much improved, no more bench seating in the Skydome. All chairs are padded in the stadium now.
The center logo on the court unfortunately faces the west side, so a majority of the people have to look at it upside down the entire game. The visiting bench is in the northeast corner, with NAU sitting in the southeast corner in front of sections 114 and 112. Two new video boards that have been installed in two corners of the court have helped counteract the football stadium problems that face the basketball set up. The football scoreboards are on during a game, but are so far away from the action that the two video boards were much needed. They show live game action, as well as instant replays, and the score and time throughout the game. The way they're set up, everyone in the dome is able to see at least one of them. During a few media timeouts, there are little contests on the court where you can win free stuff from local businesses or the NAU bookstore.
Nothing is really within walking distance from the Skydome, especially in the winter when it's almost guaranteed that the weather will be less than ideal. Not far from the Dome is downtown Flagstaff, which offers many local favorites. Some of my suggestions are: Fratelli's Pizza, Beaver Street Brewery, Bigfoot BBQ, and San Felipe's Cantina.
Along Route 66 and Milton Rd. you can also find almost any national fast food and restaurant chain. The Buffalo Wild Wings is a good place to go if you're looking for a place to watch some more sports either before or after Lumberjack games.
The student section, known as "The Lumberyard", is behind each basket, and is definitely improved from years past as well. With the new coach comes some new basketball traditions, and it's fairly obvious that Jack Murphy or someone with a lot of power has passed some stuff along from Arizona Wildcats games to the NAU faithful. Unfortunately during free throws, the student section doesn't stand up until the last 4 minutes. Why not distract the shooter the entire game Lumberyard?
It's nice to see a decent sized crowd at Lumberjack games again, especially after spending two seasons in tiny Rolle Activity Center. I thought that would kill the program as far as being able to draw fans and students, but that is most definitely not the case.
The campus of NAU is located in the southern part of Flagstaff, closest to the airport, and just east of I-17/Route 66. The Skydome has a ton of parking around it, and none of it is closed off for basketball unlike football. So on days that it is raining or snowing or hailing, you can still park close to the stadium for free and only have to brave the elements for a short time.
With basketball usually drawing somewhere between 1,000-2,000, moving around the Skydome is not too difficult. That's definitely one upside to playing basketball in a football stadium, there are easily enough facilities for basketball games.
The most expensive ticket for an NAU basketball game is just $12. Combine this with free parking, and relatively cheap food, going to a Lumberjack game is not very expensive at all. It's good that NAU has done this with the pricing so they are more able to get fans to start coming back. If you have yet to see the new and improved Skydome, I recommend doing it for a basketball game over a football game simply because it is cheaper and easier. Plus with new coach Jack Murphy, the basketball product itself should start improving over the next few years.
The unique environment of watching a basketball game in a football stadium is one that's worth seeing at least once for any sports fan. With all of the improvements NAU has made to the Dome for both football and basketball, the Skydome has become more of a must-see. The new video boards help close off the basketball set up from the rest of the dome, making it feel more like a basketball arena than a football stadium. Also, make sure to visit the giant Louie the Lumberjack statue outside the dome next to the ticket office.
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