I'm not usually one to talk about my alma mater around here. When you're from a smaller school like Bowling Green, your feelings toward your alma mater's sports teams tend to become like your feelings toward your family: strong, and intensely private, lest you get ridiculed for it.
No one, outside of other BG alums, need know that I sometimes bleed brown and orange for a team other than the Cleveland Browns. But when I found out (courtesy of Joel Hammond) that big changes might be coming to BG, I couldn't keep my mouth shut anymore.
Anderson Arena, the home of BGSU basketball since 1960, is facing the beginning of its end. Construction will reportedly begin in 2010 on a new convocation center on the east side of campus, part of a $150 million campus improvement project mean to coincide with the university's centennial celebration.
Progress is progress, I guess, but as some who covered BG men's basketball for two years and women's basketball for one year, I'm finding it hard to accept the fact that the old steel-and-brick barn at the center of campus is approaching its last chapter.
Anderson Arena is what sets BG basketball apart from other Mid-American Conference programs. The Ohio University Bobcats play in an aging-but-spacious convocation center (called, quite creatively, the Convocation Center). Kent State and Toledo, BG's two most bitter rivals at the time I attended, play in bland bleacher-filled boxes that reek of ambiguity. Standing in the lobbies of Toledo's Savage Hall or Kent's MAC Center, I could clear the crowd noise out of my head and not really know if I was in a classroom building, a rec center, an administrative building or what.
The Bowling Green Falcons, they have a homecourt advantage all their own.
Anderson Arena has been Northwest Ohio's answer to Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium and any other old, dark house of the masses that has since been consigned to history in favor of the bigger and, supposedly, the better. It is small, cramped and musty in places. Layers of flaking paint have turned some of the handrails and bleachers into a mosaic of orange, black, and in places, green.
The upstairs concourses are dark linoleum and smell of pizza and popcorn during games. The press box is cramped and hidden way up top, almost in the rafters.
The doors to the coaches' offices are wooden, the restrooms are outfitted in pale gree tile and the postgame press conferences are held in a classroom with barely enough room to fit more than one camera crew looking for a soundbite from the coaches before they'd pack up and leave those of us in the print media to continue the interview.
So many games have been dissected and analyzed in that room. It's the place where always-opinionated former BG coach Dan Dakich got on his soapbox in his weekly media chats, where Akron coach Dan Hipsher lost his temper, probably on more than one occasion, where Miami Ohio coach Charlie Coles could always be counted on for a one-liner with enough zing to get everyone laughing.
If those were the only reasons to lament the end of Anderson Arena as a basketball house, that would be enough. But none of those reasons are the real reason I love Anderson Arena.
I love the place because 5,000 people can sound like 20,000 when the place is rocking and BG basketball is the talk of the campus. At Anderson Arena, the student section is right on top of the court, adding to the noise and intimidation factor for opposing teams. It's a feature no longer present in today's security-minded arenas.
In November 2001, BG upset Michigan at Anderson Arena, 65-59, in one of the biggest regular-season games in school history. As the final seconds ticked down, the noise in the old house grew to jet-engine levels. As the clock hit zero, the entire student section stormed the court. The highlights made it onto SportsCenter.
I have no doubt in my mind that the crowd helped lift BG to a win that night, and to another win several weeks later over UNC-Wilmington, 84-83 in overtime. The fans stormed the court after that one, too.
Those are the memories I took with me as I left BG. Walking out of a broiling-hot arena after a game, heading across campus to the journalism building on a bitter-cold night, my game notes in my bag, knowing that I was carrying the story that would be the talk of the campus the next day.
I'm sure the new convocation center will be quite a sight when it opens. I'm sure it will have all the latest amenities to aid student-athletes, enhance the game-day experience for fans, and with any luck, give recruiting a boost.
But with the move, the BG basketball program is going to lose a great piece of what makes it the BG basketball program. In a sanitized-for-your-protection convocation center, high on comfort and low on personality, like scores of other college convocation centers around America, 5,000 fans will sound like just that -- 5,000 fans.
There will be no place for the sound to go but up and away, dissipating echoes joining the noise from seasons past at Anderson Arena. At that point, those of us who follow BG basketball might realize just how much we've lost.
(Photo credit: Jordan Flower, BG News)