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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

James A. Rhodes Arena – Akron Zips

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

James A. Rhodes Arena 373 Carroll St Akron, OH 44325

Year Opened: 1983

Capacity: 5,500


Rubber City Hoops

Long before Akron, Ohio was known for being the hometown of LeBron James, it was the rubber capital of the world. The headquarters of major tire manufacturers BF Goodrich and Firestone were found in Akron and the headquarters of Goodyear remain in Akron to this day. It is from this rubber heritage that the Akron Zips took their name. In 1925, a student contest for the University of Akron athletic teams was held. The winning entry was Zippers, which referred to a rubber overshoe that was manufactured by BF Goodrich in Akron. The Zippers were eventually shortened to Zips.

The University of Akron is a public university with an enrollment of approximately 12,000 while the City of Akron maintains a population of over 190,000. Home for the Akron Zips basketball team is the James A. Rhodes Arena which is on campus. It was named after former Ohio Governor, Jim Rhodes who was in office from 1963 to 1971 and 1975 to 1983. Affectionately referred to as the JAR, James A. Rhodes Arena has been home to Zips basketball since opening in 1983. The Zips program dates back all the way to 1901 and has remained in the Mid-American Conference since 1992.

Food & Beverage 3

Upon entering the JAR at the south end there is a main concession on the main floor. Hot dogs, bratwurst, nachos, pretzels, popcorn, Papa Johns Pizza and Chick-Fil-A items are all available. There are small concession stands at the south end up the stairs on the southwest and southeast sides. Pretzels, nachos, popcorn and candy are available at these sites along with soft drinks and water. Pepsi products are the soft drinks of choice at the JAR. Beer and seltzers are also available on the upper levels. Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Yuengling, Goose Island and Rhinegeist are the beers of choice. Concession prices are pretty decent, but the variety isn’t massive. Fans won’t go hungry, but there’s nothing here that will blow you away.

Atmosphere 3

The James A. Rhodes Arena definitely looks like a circa 1980s building. Not an overly attractive exterior with brown brick and not much in the way of windows, the JAR’s main entrance is to the south off of Carroll Street. The exterior is best described as drab, however it is at the end of a nice enough courtyard that opens up to the east with views of other athletic facilities, including the football stadium.

Once inside the JAR and past the ticket takers, fans are immediately struck with the prevalence of navy blue. The ceilings and walls are all painted navy blue and it gives the arena a dark feeling. There are some accents in the main entryway as well as a concession stand and what appears to be a window for merchandise sales, that was not open on the day of this review. A life-size, full colour, Zippy the Kangaroo statue is present for photo opportunities. Fans will ascend on either the east or west stairs to get to the main seating bowl entry. Fans will pass the modest display of the Summit County Sports Hall of Fame also, which may be of interest to those who enjoy that sort of treasure hunt.

Inside the seating bowl, the basketball court is surrounded by separated lower and upper levels. The court runs from north to south and it is best to get the center court logo picture from the west side. The lower east and west seats are plastic arena seats as are the upper west. Benches are found in the upper north, east and south sides. The upper and lower sections are separated by a three lane running track which lends itself to functionality when games are not present, however, fans are not adverse to walking the track when the game is not going on. The cross shaped interior has definitive corners, which should be considered when choosing a seat. Four pillars in at the four corners of the court each have a vertical LED board which features either team stats or individual points and fouls. The ceiling, walls and just about everywhere else have all been painted navy blue, which makes the arena feel very dark. The west side banners commemorate Akron’s 4 MAC Tournament Championships, 7 MAC Season Championships and 13 other Conference Championships. The east side banners commemorate each individual year’s success in the NCAA Tournament. Above center court is a state of the art videoboard, which is just the right size and doesn’t overpower the fan. On either side of the videoboard hang the banners for the honoured numbers of past players, including: Romeo Travis, Eric McLaughlin, Joe Jakubick, Bill Turner, Jim Fenton, Alex Adams, Mike Harkins, Len Paul, Fritz Nagy and Larry Jenkins.

The gameday experience is about what one would expect for a mid-major college basketball team. The band, which is excellent, can be found behind the basket in the north end. The cheerleaders and dancers take the floor and lead the crowd in cheers, perform dances or gymnastic stunts. The ZI - PS chant led by the cheer team gets the fans involved. The Zips mascot, Zippy, can be found traversing the JAR, interacting with fans and posing for pictures.

Neighborhood 4

The James A. Rhodes Arena is located on the campus of the University of Akron, just east of downtown. There are a number of spots where fans can head for pre or post game libations that are within a very short drive or a bit more of a walk. Some options include the Thirsty Dog, Canal Place and Alexander Pierce.

As far as other sporting options in Akron, the Zips field a host of athletic teams, most notably the football team which plays at nearby InfoCisionStadium-Summa Field. Akron is also home to the Double-A affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians, the Akron RubberDucks, which make their home at Canal Park, located downtown. Of course, Cleveland, with their vast array of professional teams, is just a 30 minute drive away. For other cultural and entertainment options, fans should consider the Akron Civic Theatre, Akron Children’s Museum or Cummings Centre for History of Psychology.

For fans needing to stay close to the JAR, the Courtyard Akron Downtown and BLU-Tique Hotel Akron are not that far.

Fans 3

Akron Zips basketball is averaging around 1,900 fans for the 2022-23 season, which is not abnormal for the program. The Zips rank 6th in the Mid-American Conference in attendance. There is a small student section in A and B at the southwest corner of the court that stands through the game and makes a bit of a ruckus. The band and cheerleaders also make some noise, especially when the visiting team has the ball. The rest of the fans are not loud or over the top or anything, but they know the right time to cheer and do a good job supporting their team.

Access 4

Getting to the campus of the University of Akron is not that difficult. It is located just east of downtown, close to major outlets. It is north of I-77 and I-76 and just west of Highway 8. Getting to campus via Highway 8 will leave little of the city of Akron that will require traversing. There are a few parking options around the arena, which are more than enough for a basketball crowd. For fans wishing to use public transit, there are buses that run south of the athletic facilities along Exchange Street. Fans should consult the Akron METRO website for fares, schedules and maps.

Inside the arena, the ticketing window and will-call are immediately to the right, through the south entrance. Fans will have to take some stairs to get to the main seating bowl entry, but there is an elevator available. Washroom facilities are okay at the JAR, but could be an issue for a full house.

With the security protocols at spectator sports in constant flux, Stadium Journey recommends consulting the Akron Zips website before heading to the James A. Rhodes Arena to get the most up to date protocols regarding bags, procedures and prohibited items.

Return on Investment 4

Getting to some MAC basketball to enjoy some MACtion can be very affordable. Akron Zips tickets end at $55 for lower courtside seats, but begin at $35. The west upper deck, with the chair seats, go for $25, but the General Admission benches can be had for $15. Concession prices are pretty decent and parking can be found for around $10 on campus. The return is highly underrated. Although not in a Power 5 conference, Akron floors competitive basketball teams and has a very good gameday atmosphere, which doesn’t try too hard. In the end, Akron Zips basketball is a great experience for not a huge investment.

Extras 3

An extra mark for Akron’s rivalry with the Kent State Golden Flashes. They are only a few minutes apart and the rivalry brings out a full house every time.

Akron embraces the rubber heritage and the best promotion at an Akron Zips game is the Chuck-A-Duck, which happens at the end of the game where patrons purchase rubber ducks to throw on the floor, at a target for a prize.

An extra mark for the unique and local moniker that the Akron Zips enjoy.

Final Thoughts

A trip to Rubber City may not be high on the travel bucket list for most, however, the Akron Zips provide a solid product both on and off the court that basketball fans will enjoy. Taking a trip to see the James A. Rhodes Arena is worth it and will leave fans considering a return trip.

Follow all of Dave’s sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9 and on Instagram.

Akron Zips Mascot. Photo by Richie DeVotie, Stadium Journey.

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