Convocation Center – Northern Illinois Huskies
Photos by Eric Hasman, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Convocation Center 1525 W Lincoln Hwy DeKalb, IL 60115
Year Opened: 2002
DeKalb, home of Northern Illinois University is your typical small college town surrounded by farmland. It is located just 65 miles west of the heart of Chicago.
NIU has become more known on a national scale recently due to the success of the football team, which played in the Orange Bowl game in 2013 and has made it to the Mid-American Conference Championship game 8 out of the last 11 years. The institution also field teams in other sports as a member of the Mid-American Conference.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams play in a very unique venue known as the Convocation Center. It’s a large arena with seating that folds out from the walls. A track and field running surface surrounds the basketball court and makes the space feel cavernous. It is perhaps one of the few venues in college basketball that allows you to walk laps while watching a game. With a full capacity of 10,000, the seating is probably less than half of that with the upper portion pushed back exposing the track.
Food & Beverage 2
There’s a little more offered at Northern Illinois basketball games than what you’ll find at a football game, but still far from an awe-inspiring menu. Chicken tender baskets ($6), chicken sandwiches ($5), and slices of pizza with plain cheese or sausage ($5) are the highlights. I tried the chicken sandwich and it is on par with fast food quality. You may want to consider eating pregame or postgame, but there’s enough here to get you through the contest.
Other options include the traditional hot dog ($4), nachos ($7), or an order of fries ($3). Pepsi products are on hand with bottles of soda ($5), water ($4), coffee ($4), and hot chocolate ($5). Popcorn or a hot pretzel will set you back $5. Overall, the entire menu seems a bit overpriced for the quality that you’ll receive.
For alcohol, there are domestic beers Budweiser, Bud Light, and Michelob Ultra for $9 and 16 oz Seltzers for $9. There are also “value” beers such as Busch Light and Naturdays for $4 (12 oz) and Busch Light $5 (16 oz). The “specialty” beers at the stadium are New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Heineken all for ($9.50). There is an NIU brand Kolsh-style ale, Dawgma for $10.
The seats in the Convocation Center can be folded up or extended as necessary. This makes for a very agile venue, but it also means that the seats are less comfortable than what you would expect from most arenas.
There are two levels of seating that surround the basketball court. The level below the running track offers great views of the action and feels extremely intimate. The seats above the running track feel really removed because of the wide space in between the two levels. However, these upper seats remain pushed back and unavailable for most games. This allows for a greater concentration of the crowd to be closer to the court, which is a good thing.
The crown jewel of this venue is the court design. Normally I am not a huge fan of overly designed basketball floors but this one works. The entire area inside the three-point arc is plain wood; the rest of the floor however is an intimidating smoky black color with an imposing design at center court that includes the letters “NIU,” and just the eyes and eyebrows of the husky above. This is one of my favorite basketball courts in the country.
NIU has one traditional “Mascot” who is Victor E. Huskie. In addition, NIU has Mission, a Siberian Huskie, that walks around the seating area with his ROTC handler for most of the game.
The scoreboard is a good size high-definition board that has lots of good stats and video.
DeKalb is a typical small college town. There isn’t much in town besides NIU, but there are some good restaurants downtown and near campus.
Since it is a college town, pizza parlors and fast food joints abound, but there are a few nice sports bars near campus. The “official” bar/restaurant of NIU sports is Fatty’s Pub and Grille which is located southeast of the stadium on Lincoln Highway. The bar has a great atmosphere, really good food, and is home to the coach’s show. A must-eat there is the Cajun potato salad which is a holdover from the former tenant of the building, a Cajun restaurant. The food at Fatty’s is really good you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. On game days Fatty’s does get crowded but it is a great place to go.
Another good place for a sit-down meal is Molly’s Eatery & Drinkery on Lincoln. The menu is more limited, but the sandwiches are good. There are the usual fast food places near the stadium, Culvers, Taco Bell, Chipotle, etc. However, a really good place to go of campus fame is Tom & Jerry’s Gyros also on Lincoln towards downtown DeKalb. The students love the food there and it is reasonably priced.
In downtown DeKalb, I suggest visiting Lord Stanleys. Lord Stanley’s is known for pizza, beer, and a good place to watch sports. While you are there you must try the “Willies/beer nuggets” which are deep fried pizza dough bites with red sauce for dipping.
DeKalb has a few microbreweries, the Forge Brewhouse, Byers Brewing Company, and the Keg and Kernel by Tangled Roots. All have a good selection of beers and good food and are located in downtown DeKalb.
Many years ago, Chicago had the “Cows on Parade” downtown, and DeKalb has the “Huskies on Parade.” There are many hand painted Huskie statues all over town and campus which were commissioned by local businesses. I don’t know how many there are in total, but it could be a fun hunt to run around and try to find as many as you can.
If you want to stay overnight, there are several budget hotels (Super 8, Hampton Inn and Red Roof Inn) near campus on Lincoln Highway that are within walking distance of the stadium.
Attendance at Huskies games is low especially considering the students can get in free. However, the games don’t draw many students. Maybe because the stadium is a fair distance from the dorms. The Huskies draw about 800 – 3,000 per game depending on the promotion and weather.
The fans are loyal and loud, especially on the student side which could be annoying for some. The student section consists of four sections behind the east basket, which is also where the pep band is located. The students are relatively noisy and into the game with organized chants during play. They stay engaged throughout the game and enjoy yelling at the refs, the music, and cheering for their team, in that order. The team seems to get decent support from the community. A large number of fans in attendance are families with young children and the parents are into the game, and not just there to get their kids out of the house.
The stadium and surrounding area are very accessible. It’s easy to find the Convocation Center exiting off of I-88 onto Annie Glidden Road, turning on to Lincoln Highway. The illuminated white building stands out like a beacon in the night. The stadium is on the west side of the Northern Illinois University Campus and near the Football Stadium and about a 5-minute drive from the intersection of Interstate 88 and Annie Glidden Road. Huskie Stadium is very easy to get to with the parking lots being near the Convocation Center off of Lincoln Highway and lots off of Lucinda.
There’s a large parking lot that surrounds the Convocation Center and parking is free which is nice.
The arena’s website states only small bags are allowed, however, I noticed parents with babies are allowed to bring in diaper bags. Once inside the concourses are wide, and there are no inclines to deal with, so the building is very wheelchair accessible. Bathrooms are large, so you shouldn’t expect any lines, which means you don’t have to miss out on any action just to beat the crowds to the restroom.
There is a section behind the basket that has a “bar” area with several tables, a couch, and a tv. You have to get there early to get seats in this area.
Return on Investment 3
Northern Illinois students can get into any athletic contest for free, which is a great way to get the students involved. Tickets are only $10 for reserved seating which doesn’t include the $2.50 Ticketmaster fee if you buy online. If you want to save that money, purchase a reserved seat at the ticket window for $10 with a general admission seat running $8 at the ticket window. If there is a large crowd, it is worth the extra money to get close to the action. The upper bowl will cost you $8 for a seat unless you are aged 62 or older or in 8th grade or lower ($6).
A bonus point is awarded for the play area set up for kids before the game. There’s a basketball hoop set up as well as a large inflatable jumping area.
The only significant banners commemorate the Huskies NCAA tournament appearances in 1982, 1991, and 1996. There are no retired jerseys hanging from the rafters, yet.
An extra star and extra mention again for the basketball floor design. There are many over designed floors at all levels of basketball, but this floor design is done right.
The Convocation Center is not the best but it is a good place to see a game and have a good time.