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  • Writer's pictureAaron S. Terry

JMU Convocation Center – James Madison Dukes - Former Basketball Arena


Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey


Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.86

JMU Convocation Center 895 University Blvd Harrisonburg, VA 22807



Year Opened: 1982

Capacity: 6,426

 

Hail to the Dukes!


From JMU Sports website: The Convo, as it's known around campus, previously housed the department's men's and women's basketball programs since 1982 before those programs moved to the Atlantic Union Bank Center in 2020. Renovations were announced in March of 2022 and completed late summer of 2023.


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JMU Convocation Center was built in 1982, and has been home to James Madison University’s men’s and women’s basketball programs since that time. The facility has a capacity of 6,426, and is used for numerous other gatherings besides basketball, including concerts, conventions, and JMU’s winter commencement ceremony. The venue is also one of the rotating host venues for the CAA women’s basketball tournament, and has hosted that tournament six times since 1987; it has also hosted the CAA men’s basketball tournament once.


JMU is currently fundraising for a new convocation center that will replace the current facility. The new basketball venue will include box seats and other amenities that are expected to boost attendance at games, and will also include training and workout facilities, locker rooms, offices, and practice space, as well as improved technology, sightlines, media space, and concessions. However, no timeline for the project will be announced until the university’s fundraising goals are met.


Food & Beverage 3

JMU Convocation Center offers a decent selection from several cookie cutter stands near the main entrance.

Main dishes include barbecue sandwiches, Papa John’s pizza, and hot dogs or veggie dogs for around $3 to $5, and gluten free buns are available for all items. Snack items include nachos, soft pretzels, popcorn, kettle chips, king-sized candy, or blow pops at prices ranging from 50 cents up to $5. There is also a kid’s meal for $6, which includes a hot dog, chips, apple slices, and a prize.


The drink selection at JMU Convocation Center is a little more sparse, but includes the basics such as fountain soda, bottled water, coffee, and hot cocoa, priced at $2.50 and up depending on size.


Atmosphere 2

JMU Convocation Center provides a typical atmosphere for college basketball. The band is particularly active, with lots of singing and dancing around during the game. Unfortunately, attendance is such that often the band is making more noise than the rest of the crowd.


In terms of set-up, JMU Convocation Center has most of its seating along the sidelines, with only a small section behind and above each backboard; one of these is reserved for the band, while the other is general admission. There are actually several different types of seats, though, in case you have a preference; reserved seats are hard plastic with chair backs, while general admission seating is mostly on wooden bleachers without chair backs, except for the aforementioned section behind the backboard, which consists of thick, padded benches.


JMU’s staff provides the typical entertainment during breaks in the action, including contests that feature fans wearing flippers trying to shoot lay-ups, or fans bowling using basketballs and giant inflatable pins. JMU’s mascot, Duke Dog, also does a great job keeping the fans entertained, including playing one-on-one with kids before the game, and there are also cheerleaders on hand to help rev up the crowd, including a halftime show featuring junior cheerleaders from area clubs.


Neighborhood 3

JMU Convocation Center was the first building at JMU to be built on the other side of I-81 from main campus, and therefore feels a little isolated, with only parking lots, other athletic facilities, and a few dorms in the immediate vicinity. However, there are a couple of great restaurants in town if you are looking for a bite to eat, and there are several attractions in the area if you are here for the weekend.


Harrisonburg is not a metropolis by any means, but it does have several of the typical small-town attractions you have come to expect in places like this, for example the Virginia Quilt Museum. Alternatively, if you are a history buff (or aspire to be one), you can visit the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, which is located in Staunton (about half an hour southwest of Harrisonburg).


The closest hotel to JMU Convocation Center is the Days Inn, but there are many more choices one exit further north on I-81, for example Candlewood Suites. In addition, if you are looking for a bite to eat, Anthony’s Campus Pizza and Corgans’ Publick House are both worth a visit; Anthony’s is very popular with the students, while Corgans’ serves Irish and American fare, and features live music.


Fans 2

Due to the small crowd size it sometimes seems as if the band is making more noise than the fans. While the official average attendance at JMU basketball games is around 2,900, in reality it is a lot less, and the fans tend to be fairly spread out, so it is hard to feel a lot of camaraderie with your fellow Dukes fans.


On the plus side, a lot of fans do wear team gear, so you will see lots of purple. In addition, many fans wave towels or cards emblazoned with the number “3” after exciting plays, so you can expect at least some occasional bursts of energy.


Check out the video below to get a look inside JMU Convocation Center during a game:



Access 5

Getting to JMU Convocation Center is a piece of cake, given that the venue is a literal stone’s throw from I-81. Also, there is free parking available in the lot right next to the arena on the south side; parking is available on a first-come, first-serve basis, but given the crowd size there should always be enough room.


Getting in and out of, and around JMU Convocation Center is similarly easy; there are entrances in all four corners, though most fans use the main entrances on the south side, next to the parking. In addition, there are plenty of bathrooms inside to accommodate the crowd, and no lines at the concessions. Getting to and from your seat is also easy, since the aisles are fairly wide, and there are ramps if you need them.


Return on Investment 3

Despite the small crowd, the only tickets usually available are the $10 general admission seats, since the reserved seats are only given out to donors. You can’t really move down into the closer seats, either, since the venue has staff members stationed at the bottom of the general admission section.


Nevertheless, with free parking and reasonable concessions, attending a JMU basketball game is a fairly cheap date, and a good way to see some college hoops, as long as you don’t mind the lack of fans or relatively low level of energy.


Extras 2

JMU Convocation Center has some great décor in the concourse, with lots of Dukes-themed signage and images. Take a stroll past the concessions stands and you will find trophies on display, and above the court you will see banners hanging to commemorate past championships and tournament appearances, as well as plenty of purple.


Final Thoughts

The James Madison Dukes currently compete in the Colonial Athletic Association, and have had some ups and down in recent years in terms of on-court performance. However, the school is serious about improving the athletics programs here, as evidenced by their sizeable planned investment in a new basketball arena, so things should start looking up for JMU basketball in the coming years.

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