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  • Writer's pictureDavid Welch

Coleman Coliseum - Alabama Crimson Tide



Photos by David Welch, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Coleman Coliseum 323 Paul W. Bryant Drive Tuscaloosa, AL 35401



Year Opened: 1968

Capacity: 15,383

 

Yeah, Alabama!

You will never mistake the pecking order of the athletic programs at the University of Alabama. However, this doesn’t mean that playing in the shadow of Alabama football takes away from the passion fans show for the university’s other athletic programs – on the contrary, it might help drive the passion for all things Crimson Tide.


Basketball has been played at Alabama since 1912, when the team suited up as college basketball independents. They soon experienced a short stint as members of the Southern Conference, before finding their home in the SEC, where they have played since 1932.


Coleman Coliseum opened in 1969, replacing Foster Auditorium, Alabama’s home court since the late '30s. Since its opening, the coliseum has been home to Alabama’s basketball programs, along with its gymnastics squad.


Food & Beverage   3

Concessions at Coleman Coliseum are rather run of the mill; the menus at each of the stands are high on snack foods and a bit light on more filling options. Much of the menu includes chips, candy, peanuts, popcorn, and soft pretzels. The only options of substance are hot dogs or the B-Ball Banger sausage. Previous seasons saw a more expansive menu, but prices were substantially higher for those options. Possibly the most impressive menu here now is at the Rita Italian ice stand, which beyond the standard frozen treat serves custard cookie sandwiches, milk shakes, and frozen drinks.


Soft drinks here are from the Coca-Cola family, including Powerade and Dasani bottled water. Alcoholic beverages include domestic and premium beers, hard seltzers, pre-mixed cocktails, and individual servings of boxed wine.

 

Atmosphere   3

From the outside, Coleman Coliseum bears a partial resemblance to the Roman-referenced coliseum, with a series of large columns framing the expansive glass windows of the main entrance, offset with brick structures and siding. The arena's large arching roof stands out, foreshadowing its grandeur beyond the doors.


Upon passing through the front doors and into the lobby, the main ramp leads into the arena, revealing a sea of crimson seats set off by a light-finished court framed in crimson, with the trademark Alabama “A” superimposed over an outline of the state of Alabama. A small four-sided scoreboard hangs over center court, while halo screens encircle the top and bottom of the replay boards, providing real-time game statistics and advertisements. Installed in 2009, it appears that not much has been done to upgrade the scoreboard, but individual player statistical boards, as well as video replay boards, hang high from the rafters at each end of the ceiling.


Despite some of the arena's physical shortcomings, there are several factors that enhance the game experience.  An impressive lighting package surrounds the scoreboard and is utilized throughout the game to turn the arena a deep red, while flames shoot up from pyrotechnic boxes during player introductions. Also, throughout the game there's a nice balance of the pep band, spirit squads, in-game host, and popular music.



When looking at seating, try to avoid the extremes of any of the sections – the highest reaches of the baseline seating at the visiting end of the floor have obstructed views of the scoreboards and action along the baseline. Similar challenges persist with seating in the corners of the lower levels of the seating bowl, as the wall supported seating at the ends of the floor, along with the basket stanchion, blocks the view of play in the opposite corner of the floor. The best option would be any of the seating along the sidelines.


Overall, the arena atmosphere at Coleman Coliseum provides a highly engaging fan experience, in line with what would be expected for college basketball, for a highly competitive program frequently vying for top billing in the SEC.

 

Neighborhood   5

Coleman Coliseum, located toward the southeastern corner of Alabama’s campus and neighbored by Alabama baseball’s Sewell-Thomas Stadium, is a bit separated from the main concentration of extracurricular activities in Tuscaloosa. The surrounding area is heavily populated with off-campus student housing, along with chain and international restaurants. The Druid City Brewing Company Tasting Room is also just a short distance from the backside of the arena.


The primary entertainment district of Tuscaloosa, known as “The Strip”, is just over a mile from the southeast athletics neighborhood. This area is full of Alabama apparel shops, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. Or, for those who might prefer a more subdued experience, downtown Tuscaloosa, across Queen City Avenue, offers a more mature vibe with watering holes, restaurants, boutique shops, and several hotels.


About a 5-minute drive from downtown, just off the junction of I-20 and I-359, is another cluster of hotels and several chain restaurants.


Tuscaloosa is a classic college town, where the university drives much of the heartbeat of the community. Visitors would be hard-pressed to find locals who are not somehow tied to the school, or who are not ardent supporters of at least one of the Alabama athletic programs – these ties go a long way in developing a sense of pride that permeates throughout the Tuscaloosa community.

 

Fans   4

The term “Roll Tide” is used around Tuscaloosa much like “Aloha” is used in Hawaii; fans commonly greet each other or end conversations with the phrase. This pride in all things Alabama runs deep throughout Crimson Tide County.


While alumni and Alabama fans bring a great deal of passion to Coleman Coliseum, much of the credit needs to go to the Alabama student section, the Crimson Chaos. It's not just that the students of the Crimson Chaos stand the entire game, but their cheering, jeering, and otherwise doing everything a student section should do to create a home-court advantage adds a lot to the atmosphere here.



Access   3

Interstate-20 and two US highways feed into Tuscaloosa, making Coleman Coliseum conveniently accessible for fans traveling from any direction.


There is plenty free parking in the area, the most convenient located in the Capstone parking garage along Paul Bryant Drive. Shuttle buses are also available to bring fans back and forth from the parking lots a bit further out from Coleman Coliseum.


The Coliseum has entry points on all four sides, but most fans enter through either the main front lobby, or via the entry on the 2nd Avenue side of the building, where there is also a large pre-paid parking area.


Narrow concourses contend with security screening and ticket scanning, making things a bit of a challenge to navigate. The concourse runs completely around the arena, and not in view of the court. The massiveness of the seating is broken up intermittently with crossways, but given the size of the seating sections, especially for seating at the end of the floor, it does not seem to be nearly enough.

 

Return on Investment   4

Ticket prices start at $30 for seats in the upper reaches of the seating area, which might initially seem a bit high. However, when considering there is free parking available, the $30 does seem to be a bit more palatable.


Concession prices are typical of sports stadiums, so the inflated prices should not come as much of a surprise.


Overall, basic ticket prices start at a rather reasonable rate when factoring in typical costs. However, make sure to check out the secondary market, because even after fees, those prices can still save you $10 on an individual ticket.

 

Extras   4

Even before heading into Coleman Coliseum, the Sarah Patterson Champions Plaza recognizes the founding of each of Alabama’s varsity athletic programs, with a brief history and recognition of the conference and national championships won by each program.


Along the lines of points of interest even before entering Coleman Coliseum, the Paul “Bear” Bryant statue, located at the end of Coliseum Drive, primarily showcases the history of Alabama’s most cherished program throughout the years.


Inside the concourse, fans are reminded of the legends of Coleman Coliseum with displays of past Crimson Tide stars, including Latrell Sprewell and Robert Horry, among several others. Also included are biographies of the careers of the current head coach, Nate Oates, along with legendary coaches C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson, found on the wall of the concourse not far from the main entry point. Each large photo is accompanied by a synopsis of the careers of each coach.


Lastly, Alabama mascot Big Al is an ever-present part of the game presentation during timeouts and for halftime entertainment.


 

Final Thoughts

The current state of basketball facilities has been a story of unfulfilled dreams – formal proposals for either major upgrades to Coleman, or a completely new arena, began to be made public in 2018, but any tangible progress has yet to become reality.


Coleman Coliseum is at a point where real progress needs to be made for the sake of the future of Alabama basketball. Initially, thought was given to gutting the inside of the facility and rebuilding from the inside out, but that was in 2018, and those plans never came to fruition. More recently, plans have come together to completely replace Coleman Coliseum with what is currently referred to as “Competition Arena”; while plans for the new arena have been released, there is no projected date for when construction might begin.


In its current state, Coleman Coliseum leaves much to be desired. Its saving grace is that fans do fill the arena with a great deal of excitement, and Alabama typically has a highly competitive team in the SEC. Given the upgrades many other athletic facilities have seen in recent years, however, the time has come to invest in the future of basketball at Alabama with a new (or at least improved) facility.

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