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  • Writer's pictureDave Cottenie

Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl – San Diego State Aztecs

Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.14

Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl 5500 Canyon Crest Dr San Diego, CA 92115

Year Opened: 1997

Capacity: 12,414


Madhouse on the Mesa

Since the arrival of head coach Steve Fisher, the San Diego State Aztecs have been a force to be reckoned with in the Mountain West Conference. Off of a legendary run where Coach Fisher would gain fame as the architect of the iconic Fab Five of the nineties Michigan Wolverines, Fisher would be a casualty of the booster scandal that put Michigan basketball back decades. Fisher would go on to bring San Diego State to prominence after his arrival in 1999. San Diego State has recognized his contribution and subsequently named the basketball court after him. Aztec basketball history dates back to 1921, but clearly the best years for the Aztecs are the current run the team is on under Steve Fisher.

Home for the Aztecs since 1997 has been Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl. Built on the former site of the football stadium, Viejas is a single bowl arena that seats over 12,000 fans. San Diego State signed a naming rights agreement with the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, also fulfilling their responsibility to the NCAA with regards to the use of Native American mascot names. Previously, the Aztecs played for thirty years, off campus at the San Diego Sports Arena. The student section at what is locally known as the Madhouse on the Mesa is legendary. They are creative and boisterous and have had much to cheer for over the last few years. The Aztecs success is undeniable. They hold charter membership in the Mountain West Conference, which coincided with Fisher’s arrival. Since leaving the WAC for the Mountain West, the Aztecs have won six Mountain West regular season titles, made eight NCAA tournament appearances, twice to the round of 32 and twice to the Sweet Sixteen, and brought home four Mountain West Tournament titles. College basketball fans should definitely consider a pilgrimage to the Madhouse on the Mesa.

Food & Beverage 4

The concession options at Viejas Arena are pretty decent and offer a few surprises that will help your wallet. The main concession stands at Viejas are in the outdoor concourse. Hot dogs ($5), bratwurst, nachos, chilli, PB&J; sandwiches, fried chicken wraps, pretzels, peanuts, popcorn ($3), candy, chips, cookies and churros are all available. At the main concessions there are a few surprise items that will actually cost only $1 or $2. There are also a few unique stands that may peak the fan’s culinary interest. Cold Stone Creamery offers a variety of ice cream treats and pizza is provided by Fat Boyz Pizza. The stand that may be the most worth checking out is the popular Ranchwood BBQ. Offering brisket, pulled pork, tri tip, or smoked chicken platters as well as giant ½ lb. burger options, the Ranchwood is probably the most popular concession option at Viejas.

Soft drink choices ($4/$6) are Pepsi products and can be found throughout the arena. Gatorade, bottled water, coffee and hot chocolate are also available. College basketball games are dry at Viejas and alcohol is only served for concerts.

Atmosphere 4

Arrival at the Viejas Arena will immediately strike fans as not very intimidating. The basketball court is sunken at Viejas and therefore the arena itself is not a massive structure from the exterior. Large wrought iron fences are where fans will find security and entrance to the outdoor concourse. Large green open space complete with California palm trees give the arena a pleasant and calm look from the street and in no way warn fans of the mayhem that they will find inside. Signs above the fences will remind fans that this location was once the home of the Aztec Bowl, former football home for San Diego State, before their move off-campus to Qualcomm Stadium. The exterior of the arena itself is washed in light brown sandstone, indicative of San Diego.

Upon leaving the outdoor concourse and entering the building, fans will immediately be struck with how close and cozy the interior of Viejas Arena is. With the majority of concessions and washroom facilities outside, the sunken court seems so close that fans could reach out and touch it from the inner concourse at the top of the seating area. The court is oriented in an east-west manner with a single bowl of plastic, red arena seats all around. The top six rows at Viejas are contoured plastic bleachers embedded into the concrete and should be avoided by fans. They are not comfortable and don’t offer much in the way of legroom. The perfect picture for the center court logo would be from the south side of the arena. High above the court is the video board, which is clean and clear and on par with what would be expected in an NCAA basketball facility.

On the west side, above the court, fans will find 21 championship banners which vary from NCAA tournament appearances to the Aztecs’ Sweet Sixteen appearances in 2011 and 2014. The Aztecs also lay claim to six Mountain West Regular Season Championships as well as Mountain West Tournament Championships in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2011. Championships from previous conferences are also present. San Diego State does honour some of its players who have made exceptional contributions to the program on the court. Around the upper concourse, pillars are decorated with murals for key Aztec Basketball Legends complete with QR codes that lead to info on those players. Legends include Michael Cage, Anthony Watson, Jamaal Franklin, Al Skalecky, Milton Phelps, Brandon Heath, Kawhi Leonard, and San Diego legend Tony Gwynn. A fun Aztec fact is that television personality Art Linkletter was also a former Aztec basketball player.

San Diego State puts together a solid game day experience. The southeast corner is where you will find the SDSU band and they contribute greatly to the game day experience. The band is aided by the student section, known as The Show, and the complement of cheerleaders and dancers. The Show is highlighted as part of the video intro before the opening tip. The San Diego State mascot, Aztec Warrior, is a brave student who makes his way throughout the stands and on the court, wearing not too much.

Neighborhood 4

Viejas Arena is located on the campus of San Diego State University, in the College West neighborhood of San Diego. There are a couple of spots that may interest fans for pre and post game fare, but for the most part, Viejas is surrounded by the university. Spots within walking distance would include The Habit Burger, Trujillo’s Taco Shop and Senor Pancho Fresh Mexican Grill. College and El Cajon are the streets that offer the most options, many of which are recognizable chains and fast food restaurants. The Rolando Village neighbourhood, just south of College West, has a few more spots including Woodstock’s Pizza and Effin’s Pub and Grill.

San Diego is famous for its fantastic weather and wonderful beaches. It is definitely a tourist destination and there are tons of things to do in addition to an Aztecs basketball game. The San Diego Zoo is an absolute must-see experience and SeaWorld is also a San Diego staple. The San Diego Convention Center is world famous and the San Diego Comic Convention is probably the most famous annual event at the Center. Other sporting options in San Diego would include an Aztecs football game at SDCCU Stadium or a San Diego Padres game at Petco Park. San Diego University is nearby and the Toreros also play basketball at the Jenny Craig Pavilion among other sports. The American Hockey League has also recently planted a flag in San Diego with the San Diego Gulls, who play at Valley View Casino Center and are the minor league affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks.

Fans who wish to stay in San Diego, near San Diego State should consider staying at the Best Western Lamplighter Inn & Suites or the Holiday Inn San Diego.

Fans 5

San Diego State basketball fans are legendary. The east end of the arena is home to The Show, one of the loudest, most boisterous student sections in all of college basketball. It was The Show that pioneered the waving of giant heads during free-throws. When choosing a seat, fans definitely want to consider their proximity to the students. Sell-outs at the over 12,000 seat arena are commonplace and fans are loud and passionate for their Aztecs. Although The Show has a strong presence at Aztec games, the group has been in some hot water before. Inappropriate comments and taking things too far, especially against rivals like BYU has happened before, sullying a bit of their reputation.

Access 4

Getting in and around Viejas has its ups and downs. San Diego State is located on the east side of the city of San Diego. It is very close to I-8, the Kumeyaay Highway and getting to the university should not be a problem. Parking can be a bit of a challenge around campus and a little research ahead of time can go a long way. Parking won’t blow your mind away, however $10-$20 is what you should expect to pay.

The SDSU Transit Center is very close to Viejas and buses and light rail are available. Check out the San Diego MTS website for schedules, maps and fares.

The ticketing and gate entry are very spacious as they are far from the building itself. Getting in and around the outdoor concourse is very spacious and pretty easy. Inside can be a different story. The upper concourse, inside the arena, is very crowded and getting around the building can be a chore. The washroom facilities are accessed from the outdoor concourse and are adequate for the size of arena.

Return on Investment 5

There is great value in a San Diego State Aztecs game. Tickets for a conference opponent will run from $20 to $40 and non-conference opponents run $10 to $20. Parking will probably run $15 and concessions can be very reasonable. Combine that with an atmosphere that is fantastic for college basketball and a fan base that is as good as any in the country, and fans have a recipe for a fantastic day’s entertainment. Words of warning for fans who are on the more frugal side, spend the extra money and ensure that the bench seating is not chosen.

Extras 3

An extra mark for building Viejas Arena right in the former Aztec Bowl. The north end of the arena gives a pretty good perspective on where the former football stadium stood with remnants of old seating risers.

An extra mark for one of the pioneering forces of student sections across the country. The impact The Show has had on college basketball can’t be denied.

An extra mark for the success of Steve Fisher at San Diego State and the school recognizing his contributions.

Final Thoughts

The Madhouse on the Mesa is a great spot to see some college basketball. During the winter months, San Diego State basketball is now the biggest game in town and the fans show up in droves. Do not discount the Aztecs since they are not in a Power 5 conference, there is plenty to cheer about and the Aztecs are a force in college basketball.

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