Cleveland State University basketball is one of the better kept secrets of the Northeast Ohio sports scene. The Cinderella story of the 1986 team becoming the first 14 seed to make the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament remains legendary in Cleveland and recent teams have returned to success individually with the success of NBA player Norris Cole, and as a team, with four postseason tournament appearances since 2008.
Replacing famed Woodling Gym, the Bert L. & Iris S. Wolstein Center opened in 1991. Full capacity is a formidable 13,610, but the team employs a proscenium curtain system to modify the arena to a more comfortable 8,500. In addition to housing the men’s and women’s basketball teams, the Wolstein Center has hosted games for both the Horizon League and NCAA tournament.
The 55th season of Cleveland State basketball played in 1985-86 remains the most memorable in history. Coached by Kevin Mackey, the team finished the regular season at 24-3 and winning the now defunct AMCU tournament. Without an automatic bid, the team was an at-large selection for the NCAA Tournament, earning a 14 seed and an improbable match-up versus Bobby Knight, Steve Alford, and the Indiana Hoosiers. The slipper seemed to fit the Vikings that season with upset victories over the Hoosiers and St. Joseph before losing to the David Robinson led Midshipmen of Navy, 71-70.
While a weekend afternoon with today’s Vikings may not meet the same excitement of the tournament run from almost thirty years ago, the Wolstein Center and the Cleveland State Vikings basketball team are a required stop for lovers of basketball, college athletics, or a relaxing couple of hours.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Standard fare is available at most of the Wolstein Center locations and can best be described as standard. Pretzels, fries, candy, bottled water, Gatorade, and soda all start at $3. Nachos, hot dogs, and popcorn are $4. Unlike many college arenas, beer is available at Wolstein Center. Draft (Miller Lite or Sam Adams) or tall cans (Heineken) of beer are $6. Pepsi products fill the fountain soda choices and are plentiful. Condiments feature the basics, but include the Cleveland staple, Stadium Mustard.
A couple of the stands offer Papa John's pizza and breadsticks ($4-$7), chicken tenders ($6), and curly fries ($3). The most unique option at the Wolstein Center is the CSU BBQ stand and the BBQ pulled pork sliders ($6).
The minimalist options are made up for with more than enough open stands, pleasant staff, and quickly moving lines.
When entering the bowl of the Wolstein Center, nothing stands out more than the giant green curtain stretching from north to south between sections 202 and 227. This divider is done with quality and subtlety to create an intimate atmosphere for Vikings basketball.
CSU takes advantage of the unused space behind the curtain with an elaborate Kid's Fun Zone. Directly in front of the curtain on the west side of the floor is the Cleveland State Basketball party Deck, a rentable area with seats, tables, and 'front row' seating, and capped off with catered food.
The facility itself has two levels with one primary concourse. Enter the arena and go down to the 100- level seats and up to the 200- level seats (only two sections, 204 and 205 appear to be open for use). All seats are Viking green with fold down bottoms and equipped with comfortable cushions. Unfortunately none are equipped with cup holders.
With almost all seats being in the lower bowl, there is not a bad seat to be had as no section in the 100's appears to have more than 20 rows. One ring of floor seats surrounds the open spaces left between the scorer's table, announcer's seats, and home and away benches.
The band occupies a platform on the east side of the arena and is outfitted with a horn player clad in full Viking regalia. The northeast side of the baseline is reserved for the Viking cheerleaders while the dance/spirit team is on the southeast side.
With only a little more than half of the 8,500 seats being available for fans, the flow at the gates is steady and does not seem to bottleneck, even near the box office. Fans can find two primary gates on the north side (Prospect Road), which also happen to be closest to parking structures.
One thing missing from the Wolstein Center, is the unified presence of a vocal student section. However, between the cheerleaders, spirit squad, and band, the arena is far from quiet.
Another area of opportunity is the scoreboards. Two small scoreboards hanging from the northeast and southeast sides of the venue are the primary options for fans. Both feature score, time, and possession. One has the five on the floor with their stats and the other has a small video screen.
A picture of a Viking from the eyes up and "Cleveland State" in large green script fills the middle third of the court. Keys are painted green and don the Horizon League logo. The outer ring of the court is in the same green with "Cleveland State" in white on each baseline.
An optimal seat at the Wolstein Center would be in section 123, although as mentioned, the Wolstein Center does not have a "bad" seat.
If you are going to a CSU basketball game, be sure to stop at Burgers 2 Beer. Craft beer and specialty burgers fill the menu, but it is close to the Wolstein Center (a couple blocks away on Euclid Avenue). The Vikings also hold their coaches radio show once a week from here.
The Wolstein Center is on the south end of the CSU campus. The Cleveland State University campus itself resides on the edge of the east side of the heart downtown Cleveland. Like Krenzler Field, the Wolstein Center is only a couple blocks from Playhouse Square and a few more to the heart of the downtown Cleveland nightlife. Unfortunately, while walking in downtown Cleveland is fairly safe, the winter weather can be a major buzzkill.
The close by Playhouse Square has more upscale dining options than family friendly or watering holes. The main points of interest in downtown Cleveland, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Horseshoe Casino, Quicken Loans Arena, Progressive Field, and E. 4th Street, are a 10-15 minute walk away or a $6 Uber ride away. If wanting to have a fun afternoon/evening out in downtown Cleveland, this is the place to go.
Traffic on the Cleveland State campus, both on foot and in the streets, is heaviest during rush hours. However, the school's security seems to be constantly patrolling the area on foot and in car. An added point of safety is the blue-lit emergency stations plotted through campus.
Viking fans are plentiful and relatively subdued, a fact highlighted without the crowd. Cleveland State does a great job of engaging local youth basketball teams, organizations, and church leagues, to bring kids and their families to the game. These groups are plentiful, excited to be here, and generally have a good time.
A few raucous visiting team fans may have an earful or two for the officiating, but nothing unsafe or unpleasant to worry about. In summary, Viking games are more designed for family fun than they are a collegiate atmosphere, and fans should jump on this opportunity.
The Wolstein Center is located on the eastern half of downtown Cleveland. Situated between Prospect Road and Carnegie Avenue and E. 21st and E. 18th Streets, it is near most of the action in downtown Cleveland.
Street parking is limited, but free on weekends. The official CSU parking garage is on the east side of the facility off E. 21st Street and costs $6. Handicapped parking is also $6 and on the north side of the Wolstein Center at the Prospect Road entrance. Surface lots range from $3-$5 and are found on the north (Prospect Road) and west (E. 18th St.) side of the arena. Wolstein Center management boasts 9,000 parking spaces within a four block radius.
The concourse itself is buried behind the 200- level and does not offer a view, but with at least eight open concession stands, lines fly and traffic is a breeze to get back and forth from you seat.
With the price of tickets ranging from $10-$20, attending a CSU basketball game is affordable and a worthwhile investment, considering a ticket to a CSU soccer game at Krenzler Field is $7. Tickets on the ends are the cheapest at $10. Baseline seats are $15 and Center seats are the maximum at $20. Floor seats are mostly for alumni and/or season ticket holders.
With pricing similar to a movie, concessions less than the box office, and downtown parking either free or as low as $3, an afternoon or evening with the Vikings provides a heightened return on investment, especially considering the location and when compared to other Division I or professional basketball experiences.
Additionally, the Vikings offer "Family Values Saturday with the FREE aforementioned Kid's Zone, post autographs from the team and 2 for $2 hot dogs.
With one of the more creative promotions in Division I athletics, the CSU Vikings offer a "216 Hoopy Hour." The play on the Cleveland area code offers $2 food items, $1 drafts, and $6 game tickets (2 - 1 - 6). A full merchandise kiosk is found on the concourse and includes everything from shirts and outerwear to glassware and smaller souvenirs.
The impact of the family fun promotion is evident by the full stands, happy kids, and during my most recent visit, the celebration of Magnus' (Vikings mascot) birthday. Mascots from the Akron RubberDucks, Cleveland Browns, Lake Erie Crushers, and more were present and in the stands all afternoon long.
Also to celebrate Magnus' birthday, the first 1,000 fans were given CSU reusable ice cream bowls and spoons. Other giveaways through the season include water bottles, schedule poster, koozies, license plate holders, t-shirts, and knit hats.
Also engaging with the gans, @_MJtheDJ is set up with the band and starts playing an hour before the game. He takes requests throughout the game on Twitter and personalizes the experience with the fans.
Broadcasting of Cleveland State basketball games changes between 1220AM and 1420AM but will always feature one of the more underrated play-by-play voices in Cleveland, Al Pawlowski, who is known locally as the host of the Cleveland Indians pre-game TV show. Select CSU basketball games are on ESPN3 and locally on Time Warner Sports.
Banners showcasing the success of both the men's and women's programs from Horizon League championships and NIT and NCAA tourney bids are draped high on the green curtain. The retired numbers of Franklin Edwards and 1986 Sweet Sixteen legend, Ken 'the Mouse' McFadden, bookmark the team banners.
Two hours with the Cleveland State basketball team is a great appetizer to a night out in downtown Cleveland, especially if you can pair it with a Cavs or Monsters game. The team is competitive and well-coached, and the arena experience is unique with an above average return on investment. Take advantage of the perks and incentives the school uses to entice fans to come to the game. When you get home you won't be able to wait to tell your friends about the legend of Ken 'the Mouse' McFadden and the run of 1986, and an even better Stadium Journey at the Wolstein Center!
The Wolstein Center is located at Cleveland State University in Downtown Cleveland, OH. Housing the Vikings basketball team of the Horizon League, the center can seat 14,000 when big name college opponents are in town.
Normally, the Wolstein Center is cut in thirds when Horizon League opponents are in town as was the case on Feb. 13, 2010 when they hosted then 15th ranked Butler.
1100 E 9th St
Cleveland, OH 44114
1100 Carnegie Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115
629 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44114