The William D. Mullins Memorial Center, which opened in 1993, is the home of UMass basketball and men’s ice hockey. Across the entry plaza is the Mullins Community Ice Rink, home to women’s ice hockey as well as various university and community skating activities. Seating 9,493 for basketball, the arena was built to replace the still-standing Curry Hicks Cage, which dates back to the 1930s. Beyond hosting sporting events, the Mullins Center is also well-known for being one of the largest indoor concert/event venues in western Massachusetts, with acts ranging from Sesame Street Live! to Kanye West to Metallica to Phish having performed there.
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Apparently, the university has revamped the concession offerings at the Mullins Center in the last season or two, and the resulting variety is quite good for a college facility. Prices are not exorbitant but are certainly in line with those at a minor-league venue.
Many of the food selections come from nationally-known companies, like Nathan's hot dogs ($3.50), Subway sandwiches (6" sub for $4.50), Johnsonville sausages ($6.50), Legal Sea Foods clam chowder ($4/$5.50), White Castle cheeseburgers (2 for $3.50), Domino's Pizza, and Hershey's ice cream ($4/$5) and smoothies ($6).
Many of the other usual staples are available: burritos ($6.50), nachos ($4/$6.50), chicken fingers ($6.50), fries ($4), candy ($3), popcorn, ($3), water ($3), and soda ($3/$4) among other offerings.
Beer and other alcoholic beverages are not available at the Mullins Center.
I attended a university that lacked a football program and whose basketball team was not among the nation's elite. As such, the game at the Mullins Center felt to me very much the way I'd always imagined one featuring a "big time" college program would, based on what I've seen on television over the years. Like some, but certainly not all of the college venues I've visited, the University and Mullins Center management have done an admirable job of providing that caliber of a fan experience.
Walking into the building, whose modern exterior is an attractive combination of brick, glass and steel, I felt like it could easily be a minor-league facility in any decent-sized city. Looking around the room itself, Mullins features two primary video scoreboards on the wall at either end with secondary boards above the tunnels in the middle of the arena, and triangular NBA-style shot/game clocks on top of the baskets. Static ads are placed on one side of the court, with rotating ads on the other. Looking up to the rafters, banners hang for all the teams in the Atlantic-10 and Hockey East, as well as others celebrating both basketball and hockey accomplishments. Retired numbers, including Julius Erving's #32, can be seen on the wall on one end, near the video board.
As is becoming the norm with pro teams and many college programs these days, the home team was greeted to the floor with a very elaborate, professionally-presented introduction sequence: lights dark, spotlights, video display, intense music, with cheerleaders, dance team, baton twirlers, and mascot all on the floor, and UMass players introduced individually by the PA announcer, who was standing on the court and decked out in a Minutemen jersey.
The arena was 2/3 full at tip-off and continued to fill in as the first half progressed to an announced attendance of 8,399 or 88% of capacity. Seating was in three groups on a single tier: court-side and lower level, separated by the hockey boards, and upper level seating. Seats were mostly full except at the corners. There was a lot of energy in the room early, and it generally kept up for the whole game with the exception of a lengthy scoring lull by the Minutemen in the second half. By sheer virtue of attendance and the vibe in the room, UMass basketball clearly draws support from many of the nearby communities in addition to Amherst itself.
Very little recorded music was played, from pregame to the final whistle. Instead, a large, jazzy/funky electrified band with horns located adjacent to the student section provided the soundtrack. Musical selections included songs from the White Stripes, Sublime, Green Day, and arena rock standards such as "Rock and Roll Part 2", among others, along with the themes from "CBS College Basketball" and "Rocky". The band also played brief licks on their instruments at appropriate points throughout the game.
Along with actually leading cheers throughout the game and performing various routines, cheerleaders went into the aisles during several timeouts. In addition, each and every Minutemen free throw was accompanied by a dance team routine that took place under the opposite basket.
Timeout diversions included promotions ("win x if you find a sticker from y on your scorecard", for example), a free-throw contest, a dance contest on the video screen, trivia, and away scores. Despite a very energetic, yet professional-sounding PA announcer who sometimes came onto the court for promotions and such, there were no exhortations to the crowd to "get loud", "make noise", etc. because fans were doing just fine on their own.
With the Mullins Center being located on one end of the UMass campus, there is no neighborhood in the immediate vicinity for the general public to partake in pre or post-game activities.
However there are many restaurants and bars in Amherst Center, heavily concentrated around a short stretch of Pleasant Street near the intersection of Main Street. This is a short drive away, perhaps five minutes in light traffic. One choice worth mentioning is Antonio's Pizzeria, one of the most authentic NY-style pizza parlors one will find outside of the Five Boroughs.
After peaking in the mid-1990s and bottoming out in the mid-2000s, the Minutemen appear to be on the rise. One reflection of that is strong attendance at games by highly engaged fans. Given that the nearest town with any sort of pro team is Springfield, it should come as no surprise that the Minutemen are afforded a degree of fan enthusiasm reflective of their prominence in Amherst and the surrounding towns. This could clearly be seen in the age range among fans and presence of many families at the game.
From the opening moments of the game, there was a reaction by the crowd to virtually every single play regardless of whether the outcome was positive or negative. Immediately after losing the opening tip-off, a "defense!" chant spread across the arena. The first couple of baskets were met with enthusiastic applause, while a short UMass scoring run soon afterward brought the crowd to its feet once the visitors took a timeout in a bid to halt the momentum. The Mullins Center absolutely lit up after a successful Minutemen alley-oop and dunks were met with a response that I can only classify as "pro" loud. Instances of random fans rising to their feet in reaction to plays were relatively frequent.
On more than one occasion, there was clear fan outrage at perceived blown calls. A play resulting in a downed UMass player (who ultimately was okay) was met with stunned dead silence. Tinges of frustration were most noticeable during a UMass scoring drought in the 2nd half, when plenty of audible groans on missed shots and bad passes could be heard. A Minutemen basket with an "and 1" foul that ended the drought brought a huge reaction. With UMass up by five points with five minutes to play, the crowd took it upon themselves to try to pump up team.
Unsurprisingly, the most visible and vocal fans were in the large (700-strong) and diverse student section behind one basket. Many were wearing t-shirts identifying them as members of the "Mullins Militia", a student-run fan group whose stated goal "is to make the Mullins Center the toughest place to play in America". Several had painted faces and a few even came in costume, with one person in a referee's outfit and another looking like a Teletubby quite visible in the first row. Even before the game started, they made their presence known by loudly booing the first mention of the visiting team's name during warm-ups. A "Let's Go UMass!" chant boomed out of the section immediately upon the completion of the national anthem. A shot clock violation by the visitors was met with a "You Can't Do That!" chant, and each opposing free throw was met with a cacophony of noise. Of course, a couple of students made inappropriate comments and gestures at various points, but that is hardly a shock given the circumstances.
Most people will drive to reach the Mullins Center. There is something very "New England-y" about driving to the UMass campus which, regardless of the direction one is coming from, is at least 10 miles from the nearest Interstate. This gives drivers a little taste of largely rural Western Massachusetts.
Depending on direction and how much time you want to spend on back roads, the Mullins Center is accessible from both I-90 (MassPike) and I-91, which is more direct.
There is ample parking in lots adjacent to the Mullins Center and in nearby fields.
Anyone looking to reach the Mullins Center via public transportation should consult Amtrak or bus schedules for details on getting to Amherst and the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority for local bus information.
The Mullins Center has four reasonably-sized restrooms for women and three for men that were overwhelmed only at halftime.
Seating for men's basketball is divided into four zones: Premier, Gold, Value, and Student. Premier consists of all court-side and lower level seating parallel to the sidelines, and the three middle sections of the upper level on each side. Gold seating is the remainder of upper level seating parallel to the sidelines. The Value zone is all seating behind one basket plus the adjacent corner sections. Student seating for men's basketball is general admission and basically mirrors the Value section.
Single-game ticket rates are as follows: Adult (Prem/Gold/Value): $18/$15/$12; Senior (65+)-Faculty-Staff: $15/$12/$10; Youth: $18/$10/$6; Group (Value): $6; Alumni Association Life & Legacy Member (Gold or Value): $6. A limited number of tickets for undergraduate students are available for no additional fee to those who have paid the UMass Student Athletic/Activity Fee.
Season ticket rates for men's basketball are as follows (16 games; Adult/Senior-Faculty-Staff-Youth): Premier $270/$235; Gold $210/$170; Value $130/$115.
Overall, nothing at the Mullins Center is unreasonably expensive and the product on the court is quite watchable, evidenced by the Minutemen qualifying for the NIT in 2012. As such, any college basketball fan should find a visit here quite worth it.
The Mullins Center features a nice UMass merchandise stand out in the concourse. I don't know about you, but I think Dr. J is one of the icons of the sport, so sitting in an arena with his jersey hanging is a real treat.
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