Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43
Bryce Jordan Center 127 Bryce Jordan Center University Park, PA 16802
Year Opened: 1996
Little Sister of the Poor Stepchild?
In a 2011 article written by ESPN.com Dana O’Neil, the Penn State basketball program was referred to as “the little sister of the poor stepchild to football”. She stated that basketball at Penn State is a “winter afterthought given all the tending and care of a vegetable garden positioned in the middle of a nuclear field”. Harsh criticism, indeed!
It is undeniable that Happy Valley holds their beloved Nittany Lions football program above all else, but is basketball that terrible? Stories of the basketball team being bumped all over the place to practice for the postseason are out there, but are they that much of an afterthought? Most importantly, is a trip to Penn State to see the Nittany Lions worth your sporting dollar and travel time?
The Penn State Nittany Lions have been playing basketball for a VERY long time. Their team was established in 1897 but has struggled for the duration of its incarnation. In 1990, Penn State settled in the Big Ten Conference, bringing the membership of the conference up to 11 institutions. The Nittany Lions have only tasted the Final Four once, in 1954, and have only made the tournament 9 times. They also hold the championship for the 2009 NIT.
However, Penn State is a large school with over 45,000 students enrolled. The State College location for Penn State, nestled in central Pennsylvania, between Pittsburgh and Scranton, means there are not a ton of other options in the surrounding area once football is finished. The university itself is located in its specific postal area of University Park. Home for the Nittany Lions is the Bryce Jordan Center, named after former Penn State president, Henry Bryce Jordan.
The ingredients are all there for a successful program at Penn State. Catching a game at Penn State will not be the basketball experience of a lifetime, but with a good matchup and a little buzz and you will enjoy your time in Happy Valley.
Food & Beverage 4
There are several different options available at the Bryce Jordan Center and you will be satisfied with the selection.
The Bryce Jordan Center has several different concession stands for patrons, most offering different menu items. The main concession stands offer hot dogs ($4), grilled chicken, chicken tenders, pizza ($6), pretzels ($4), popcorn ($4), and fries among other items. The Roarin’ Grill offers cheesesteaks, and burgers while the Salada Salads offers a variety of salad options including Buffalo Chicken and Chicken Caesar varieties.
The Pretzel Revolution offers a variety of pretzels including stuffed pretzels in Buffalo Chicken, ham and cheese, pizza, and pretzel dogs. Finally, the Hungry Lion BBQ Den offers a variety of barbecue options in the “Den Box” featuring smoked brisket, chorizo, pulled pork, or pulled chicken.
Soft drink options in the Bryce Jordan Center are Pepsi products ($4/$5/$6) and can be found in three sizes of fountain soda at most concession stands. Gatorade, coffee, hot cocoa, and bottled water are also available. As with the other programs in the Big Ten Conference, alcohol is not available for purchase in the arena.
A couple of items that you should consider purchasing would include one of the stuffed pretzels from the Pretzel Revolution or the Pitt vs. Philly Sandwich from the Roarin’ Grill.
The atmosphere at the Bryce Jordan Center is decent, but will not blow you away.
Approaching the Bryce Jordan Center from the outside, you will find a building that is aesthetically pleasing for the most part. It is not over-the-top modern-looking and does not have an entrance with tons of green glass, but the red brick and grey siding looks nice enough for the arena which was built in 1996. There are several windows underneath the grey siding of the upper bowl portion, which allow plenty of natural light into the concourse during an afternoon game.
The Bryce Jordan Center sits below the watchful eye of Mount Nittany, which can be seen from the lookout point with the provided binoculars. Inside the Bryce Jordan Center, patrons will find maybe a bit too much-exposed concrete in the concourse area. The arena features a single concourse that serves both the upper and lower seating bowls.
There are a huge number of banners hanging from the ceiling in the concourse advertising Penn State basketball, both the men's and Lady Lions. Above the entrances of the seating bowl there are murals of significant events in Penn State basketball history including the 1954 Final Four team, as well as the careers of such Nittany Lions as Tim Fraizer and John Amaechi.
Inside the seating bowl, patrons will find the court in a north-south configuration. Above the center of the court is an excellent video board to go along with the 360-degree ribbon board encircling the arena. At the south end of the arena hang banners commemorating the achievements of the Nittany Lions basketball team including the 1954 Final Four team, the 2009 NIT Championship team, and the 2001 team that made it to the Sweet 16.
Other tournament appearances are also commemorated. There are also several banners honoring the Lady Lions who have seen significantly more success than the men have. Both the north and south ends of the upper bowl are routinely curtained off in an attempt to encourage a more intimate feel.
The promotions are what you would expect for a college basketball game. The pep band sits in the south end and plays throughout the game. Both the Lionettes dance team and traditional cheerleaders perform during stoppages in play. The intro for the game is pretty good with the band taking a significant role, especially the drumline. When the players are introduced by the public address announcer, most of the fans in attendance yell out “Penn State” along with the announcer for each player.
The seats in the Bryce Jordan Center are your typical plastic, stadium seats. If you are interested in a picture of the court with the logo facing in your direction, then the west side is where you want to be (sections 117-127). You will want to be in the lower bowl if possible, as the upper bowl will feel a lot more spacious. The upper rows of the lower bowl on the west side will provide a great view of the court.
There are lots of options for pre and post-game fare in State College. Depending on how hearty a walk you are looking for, taking your car to get something before or after the game is a distinct possibility. The Bryce Jordan Center is located fairly central to the University Park campus. Heading to College Ave, the southern border of the campus will yield a ton of options. Some options you may want to consider include Letterman’s Sports Grill, and Kildare’s Irish Pub. There are also a ton of fast food and chain options on College Ave. Other options you may consider are Spats Cafe or Whiskers, which is in the on-campus Nittany Lion Inn.
State College is pretty isolated and as a result, there are not a ton of other options for entertainment. Penn State does offer a variety of other varsity sports including hockey at Pegula Ice Arena and of course football at Beaver Stadium. You may want to consider a hike on one of the trails of nearby Mount Nittany if you are looking for something a little more active.
The Penn State experience drops off when it comes to fan support.
The Nittany Lions lack the student support that you would normally equate with a top-flight college basketball program. On the date of this particular review, there was not much of a student section to speak of. This particular game brought in a pretty big crowd of over 10,000 but take into consideration that it was a top-flight opponent in Michigan State with a fan base that traveled well.
The Nittany Lions attendance is all over the place, but essentially the venue is too big for the crowds that basketball brings in. In 2013-2014, the Nittany Lions drew an average of just over 6,000 fans. They did make a significant jump for the 2014-2015 season, averaging over 8,000 fans, however, those numbers keep them near the bottom of the conference in attendance.
The fans that are in the stands are supportive, when not drowned out by visiting fans. They are fairly polite and knowledgeable. However, with generally a poor product on the floor, the team does not give the fans too much to cheer about.
Getting in and around the Bryce Jordan Center is not a problem at all. The Penn State campus is located north of State College proper and just south of Interstate 99. When getting off the interstate, you will not have to travel through town to get to the arena.
Public transit is available at State College. Several different bus lines stop at the front door of the Bryce Jordan Center. The Center Area Transportation Authority (CATA) travels throughout campus and links to major areas of State College and neighboring communities. Check out the CATA website for maps and schedules.
There is plenty of parking around the Bryce Jordan Center. Keep in mind that the arena is just across the street from Beaver Stadium, which requires a HUGE number of parking spots on game day. Parking has been listed for a nominal $5, however, for this particular event, there was no attendant when we parked and we were not charged a fee.
The gates are fairly spacious and spill right into the concourse. The ticketing areas offer more than enough space and are a little busier than other places since buying tickets at the door is not out of the question.
For the number of fans in attendance, the concourses are more than adequate in size. If there were a packed house, this may not be the case. The washroom facilities are more than adequate and lines tend to move very quickly.
Return on Investment 4
Penn State basketball is affordable, but the return may be a bit questionable.
The most expensive tickets for Penn State basketball are a mere $26 for conference opponents. Non-conference opponents are fewer and there are numerous discounts for youth and seniors. Combine this with decent concession prices and parking that is very cheap and you have a recipe that will not require a ton of money. However, the lack of fan support and the poor showing that the team often produces may make you think twice. However, it is still major college basketball in a major college basketball conference, and that can’t be too bad.
Two extra marks for Mount Nittany and the beautiful mountainous surroundings in Happy Valley as well as the beautiful campus of Penn State.
Penn State basketball seems to be in a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. It lacks in the fan department, but would more fans push the administration to put a stronger emphasis on the basketball program, or would a better basketball product bring out more fans?
Either way, there is huge potential in Penn State basketball that is unrealized and it would not be out of the question for the team to make significant strides in the conference and become a more regular participant in the NCAA tournament. However, I’m not sure that Penn State is the little sister of the poor stepchild. The experience seems better than that.