- Matt Colville
Mitchell Center – South Alabama Jaguars
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
Mitchell Center 2195 Mitchell Center Dr Mobile, AL 36608
Year Opened: 1999
USA Basketball in Mobile
Located on the grounds of the University of South Alabama sits the beautiful 10,041-seat Mitchell Center, home of the Jaguars men’s and women’s basketball teams. Affectionately known as USA, the Jags basketball teams moved into the state of the art Mitchell Center in 1999 after playing the previous 29 seasons at the outdated Jaguar Gym on campus. Despite moving into a new venue, the Jags basketball team has had mixed results, with only two seasons where they made it to the NCAA tournament (‘06 and ‘08).
Regardless of the lack of success on the hardwood, the newly renovated Mitchell Center is not only one of the premiere venues in the Sun Belt Conference, but it’s slowly becoming the go-to spot for entertainers and promoters when coming to the Mobile area. Also, it is currently the largest indoor entertainment venue in southern Alabama.
Food & Beverage 2
There are four concessions stands located throughout the arena, although on the most recent night I attended there were only two stands open – one located directly in front of the entrance on the south side of the arena and another on the east side of the concourse. The ballpark basics are sold such as nachos and pretzels ($4), popcorn and hot dogs ($3), and Lays potato chips ($2). Prices seem reasonable and lines are not a problem, although there was a short line right before tip-off, but I attribute that to the stand being located as soon as you walk in the main entrance. There are fewer people at the stand on the east side, so if you are going to eat at the arena I recommend using the east side stand as both stands sell the same items. But my better suggestion would be to get something to eat at one of Mobile’s area restaurants – you can find whatever you’re looking for within a few miles of campus.
Coke is the soft drink provider at Mitchell Center with 22 oz. cups costing $3 and 32 oz. souvenir cups costing $4. Bottled water is available for $2, and despite the fact that it is located on campus, alcohol is sold inside the arena with 12 oz. Bud Light, Coors, and Miller available for $4.
The Mitchell Center is located on the southwest side of campus, and there are two main entrances into the arena on the north and south sides. The south entrance is the one most people will use since the main parking lot is located on the south side of the complex. There are also four television monitors showing the game as well as four sets of bathrooms located inside the arena, and on the east and west sides of the building are two small team stores that sell basic t-shirts and other Jags gear.
Inside the actual arena the bowl is separated into two levels, with 16 luxury suites in-between the levels. Seven banners hang from the rafters displaying Jaguars tournament wins and several retired numbers, as well as a small band playing on the north side of the arena at floor level. For an arena like this it would be nice if the entire upper deck was tarped off for some of the less well-attended games, but currently just the north and south sections are tarped off.
At the end of the 2017-18 regular season the Mitchell Center received a significant upgrade that paid homage to the university’s athletic history. Located along the concourse you will find plaques, trophies, awards, etc., and not just for basketball but for every sport. On the east concourse you will find various displays that honor the past student athletes for every sport. Keep walking and you’ll come across a section recognizing the various individual awards that athletes at the university have won over the years. At the north side entrance, the one you would enter if you were coming from campus, you will find an impressive display showcasing all the different uniform combinations of all the different sports at USA. The Jags field 15 different sports, so you will find at least 15 different mannequin displays wearing the uniforms of that respective sport, with some sports showing multiple uniforms. This was something unique and fresh, and an idea that other universities could take note of.
Also, near the north entrance is a small athletics hall of fame, as well as the famed Waterman Globe – the globe is 12 feet in diameter and was originally a tourist attraction in downtown Mobile. It sat out in front of the Waterman Building (now SunTrust Plaza) from 1948-1973; I’m not really sure what relationship the globe has to the university, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Keep walking along the concourse and you’ll find various plaques detailing every team accomplishment (bowl appearances, NCAA tournament berths, playoff berths, etc.) that the Jaguars have had. You could easily spend the whole game just walking around the concourse, and if you want to know the history of the Jag athletics programs, you could easily gain enough information just by viewing everything on the concourse. For a school that was founded fairly recently, having just opened its doors in 1968, it is nice to see the university go above and beyond and properly honor its athletic teams.
Mobile is a really big and spread out town, and one could spend the entire weekend here, as there are numerous things to do for people of all ages. Within walking distance of the campus you will find numerous places to eat such as Fuzzy Tacos, Mellow Mushroom, Ollie’s Mediterranean Grill, a Moroccan-themed bar and something different for the area, and Heroes Sports Bar, which has really cheap drink specials. If you’re looking for some cheap food, Foosackly’s is located a couple blocks from Mitchell Center, and has really cheap chicken tenders. Or for BBQ, Dreamland (an Alabama staple) has several locations in Mobile and I highly recommend it. Also, Airport Road and Old Shell Road, the two main roads into campus, have the typical fast food restaurants and national chains you could check out. All in all you should be able to find plenty to eat within a couple of miles of the university.
About 15 miles east of the college is downtown Mobile, and this where the college kids like to hang out. Dauphin Street is basically a smaller Bourbon Street with fewer tourists, and is lined with bars that get pretty packed on weekends. FIVE Mobile, Loda Biergarten, Haberdashier, and Dumbwaiter are all good bars located on Dauphin Street. Or if you are looking for seafood, Wintzell’s Oyster House and Chuck’s Fish have you covered In the downtown area. If you are looking for a nice sit-down restaurant try Dauphin’s – located on the 34th floor of the Trustmark Bank Building, Dauphin’s has a wonderful view of Mobile Bay; just make note the place is expensive, and reservations are encouraged as it often gets packed out.
Mobile is one of the oldest cities in the Gulf Coast region, having been founded in 1702. It has been ruled by four different nations since its founding over 300 years ago so there is plenty to do in the town for history buffs. Fort Conde, founded in 1723 and located in downtown Mobile, is a cool place to visit if you are interested in history. The area around the fort has many colonial-style buildings that are rumored to be haunted. Mobile was also the birthplace of Mardi Gras and one could visit the site of the very first parade at Joe Cane’s house, who was the founder of Mardi Gras. If checking out a game this season I recommend coming during February and trying to catch a parade – if you’ve never seen one before It’s really a great time and one of the great things about living on the coast; everybody should experience a Mardi Gras parade at least once.
In addition, the USS Alabama, a World War II battleship, is also worth checking out while in the area. The Alabama is located after the tunnel if you are headed east, in between the main I-10 causeway. Or for kids and families the Exploreum and IMAX Theatre is worth checking out; this is a favorite spot for school field trips, and I took many field trips there when I was younger. Also, if you want to make a beach trip out of the weekend, the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are about 30 miles away. If staying in the area you will find numerous hotels along Airport Rd and Old Shell Road, as well as several high-rise hotels located in downtown Mobile. All in all Mobile is a really nice town and one could find plenty to do here.
The Jags basketball team is facing the same challenges that the football team is facing, and that’s getting fans to attend, except the basketball team can’t use the excuse of playing in an outdated facility ten miles from campus and in a rough part of town. The most recent basketball game I attended was a Saturday night game against Florida A&M, with exam week coming up the next week and Alabama playing Georgia in the SEC Championship, so it seems like most of the students stayed in.
There were fans scattered throughout the lower bowl with several fans in the upper deck. The Jags are averaging 1,600 fans per game four games into the season. It would make for a more intimate atmosphere if the entire upper bowl was tarped off for less well-attended games. It seemed like more Rattler fans were in attendance, having made the short three-hour drive from Tallahassee. With FAMU’s colors being bright green and orange, it was very easy to spot the Rattler fans in attendance.
Let’s face it – there is no easy way to get to campus. USA’s campus is located in northwest Mobile on the corner of Old Shell Road and University Boulevard – I’m not going to say it’s in the middle of nowhere because it’s not, it’s just that no matter which direction you are coming from you will encounter numerous red lights en route to the campus, not to mention Mobile can have horrendous traffic, so it’s best to plan for traffic delays if attending a game. I-10 runs east and west about 10 miles south of campus, so that’s the main road you will come in from if traveling from out of town.
There are several different ways to get to campus if coming from the west – your best bet would be to take the Schillinger Road exit and go north to Old Shell, which runs right in front of campus. Keep in mind Schillinger Road is notorious for its traffic delays and road construction, so even though you’re only on the road for maybe 8 miles, it can take forever. If coming from the east or north I’d suggest taking I-10 to I-65 north and then taking the Airport Road exit in front of the Bel-Air Mall. Airport Road is one of the main throughways in Mobile, so once again traffic could be a nightmare depending on the time of day – Airport Road runs right into University Boulevard, which runs parallel to campus.
Mobile Regional Airport is located five miles west of campus and is the main airport in the area with flights to anywhere in the southeast. Once on campus the main parking lot is located on south side and parking is free. You could also park at one of the many lots on campus and walk to the arena. Keep in mind USA is not exactly the safest campuses around as it has consistently been ranked as one of the most dangerous campuses in the country, so be aware of your surroundings when walking after dark.
Return on Investment 4
Ticket prices range from $7 in the upper bowl to $12 in the lower bowl. During one game I recently attended there were no ushers checking tickets, so you could purchase the upper bowl tickets then move to the lower bowl. However, I’m not sure if you could do this during a conference game or when a big-name opponent comes to town.
With concessions prices being fairly reasonable and parking being free one could buy a ticket and eat a meal at the Mitchell Center for $15-$20 – at this day and age you cannot beat this price for a Division I basketball game.
One extra point for the displays along the concourse as well as the Waterman Globe located on the north side – it is a very classy move for the university to go all out honoring all of the athletic teams’ accomplishments. I’ve seen similar displays at other college basketball arenas, but seeing all the different jerseys of the Jaguars is definitely cool and something I have not seen yet.
With the constant closing and re-opening of the outdated Mobile Civic Center in downtown, another extra point goes to the Mitchell Center for becoming the top indoor venue for concerts and other big events in Mobile.
The Mitchell Center is a very nice arena, almost too nice for the team. But having a nice arena can only get you so far – the South Alabama Jaguars have got to figure out how to win more and then maybe more fans will come, because right now the team is a small fish in a big pond.