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  • Paul Swaney

Athletics Center O’rena – Oakland Golden Grizzlies

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.42

Athletics Center O’rena 2200 N Squirrel Rd Rochester, MI 48309

Year Opened: 1998

Capacity: 4,005


The O Factor

In 1998, Oakland University joined the Mid-Continent Conference and the ranks of Division I basketball. The conference has since changed its name to the Summit League, and the Golden Grizzlies are beginning to establish themselves as the league’s top program.

Part of the reason for this growing success has to go to their home court, known as the O’rena. Like many arenas in the Summit League, the setting is small, but Oakland is doing a lot of things just right, making this a really good (and relatively unknown) college basketball experience.

Food & Beverage 3

It’s an interesting set up for concessions at the O’rena. Since the concourse circles above the seats, you never lose your view of the action when you’re up and about. The same goes for the two concessions stands. This is a real benefit, especially because lines tend to get long during the game. If you’re hungry, try to grab your grub early.

The prices are reasonable, but the selection is a bit lacking. I would recommend going for the kielbasa sausage ($2) over the hotdog ($2) or Hungry Howie’s pizza slice ($3.50). Snacks include popcorn ($2), pretzel ($2.50), and nachos ($3). They also have a great ice cream selection of either Ben & Jerry’s or Starbuck’s brand ice cream bars ($3). Pepsi is the soda of choice ($2).

Atmosphere 4

The determination of where to place the student section and pep band is an absolutely critical component to creating the right basketball atmosphere. Oakland does a great job of placing their students directly behind the opponent’s bench, and the pep band blasting them from the side. It’s a fantastic one-two punch.

That 50-member pep band is active starting as early as 45 minutes before the tip-off, and they are the only music you’ll hear throughout the game (with the exception of the video montage during introductions). You’ve got to love the jubilance that comes from a college pep band. There’s no overhead scoreboard. Instead, there are four very basic scoreboards in each corner, and one large HD screen on the south end of the facility, providing highlights and the detailed statistics. It’s a great modern touch.

Black plastic bleachers can be found under each basket, and they are relatively comfortable. On the east side (behind the team benches) there are permanent chairback seats and drink holders. The opposite side is a foldable stand with seats that are without cupholders, and less than adequate leg room. The seats face straight ahead, so the view is a little awkward if you’re away from center court. My recommendation is to sit in section E4, where you get the best seating situation as well as the best view.

One area for improvement is definitely with the mascot, who seemed pretty invisible throughout the contest. With the size of the arena, he should be making his way around the concourse and through the stands as much as possible.

Neighborhood 3

Oakland University is found in Rochester, Michigan, close to Auburn Hills, former home of the Detroit Pistons. It can make for a convenient NCAA/NBA doubleheader when the schedule allows.

Most of the options for bars or restaurants in the immediate vicinity are uninspiring chains. I’m a big fan of Jet’s Pizza, just a couple of blocks away. Other predictable choices include BD’s Mongolian Bar-B-Que, T.G.I. Friday’s, Applebee’s, or Romano’s Macaroni Grill.

Fans 4

The student section is good but still needs a little more energy and bodies before they can be great. For the game that I attended, they were pretty late. Known as the “Grizz Gang,” this assembly needs to come earlier and in greater numbers, but in the meantime, they are a pretty imposing little group.

Access 4

There is one primary parking lot near the O’rena, which is mostly taken by donors. Parking is free throughout the campus, so just find one of the nearby lots and take the short walk through campus. You’re only a couple of miles away from I-75, a major north/south thoroughfare. The size of the crowd is small enough that you should have no trouble getting in or out.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets cost either $15 or $10. I would recommend paying $15 only if you can find seats in section E4, otherwise, go for the cheaper option as you’ll have a fine view in most cases. With free parking and very reasonable concession prices, you’ll find your money to be well invested in this experience.

Extras 2

The murals on the walls of the concourse are a nice touch, with pictures of generations of athletes and coaches proudly displayed. Another bonus point for the University for the smart arrangement of the student section and pep band.

Final Thoughts

The more college basketball I see, the more I appreciate these small arenas that are focused on the basketball and beautiful college atmosphere. This is definitely one for you to see if you are living in the Detroit area, or are in town when the Golden Grizzlies play.

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