In November, the University of Texas played a men’s basketball non-conference game in Gregory Gymnasium, a 92-year-old fieldhouse with a 3,200 capacity, and admitted student-fans only.
On Monday Seton Hall did something similar, hosting St. John’s at 82-year-old Walsh Gym with Hall students comprising almost all of the 1,300 fans in attendance.
Could the concept be adopted by Rutgers at the College Avenue Gym? Members of the Riot Squad, which leads the typically packed, raucous student section at Jersey Mike’s Arena, would love to see it.
As the Scarlet Knights (11-7 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) prepare to play host to Maryland (10-9, 2-6) at Jersey Mike’s Arena Tuesday (8 pm, Big Ten Network) it’s something fun to ponder.
“A fantastic idea,” said freshman Jerold Holt, who’s been to every home game. “That would be a really cool environment, to play a game like that on Jim Valvano Court. There’s obviously a lot of history there.”
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Built on the site of College Field, where the first intercollegiate football game was played in 1869, the College Avenue Gym (nicknamed “the Barn”) opened in 1932 and housed men’s basketball games until 1977. In the days of lax fire-code enforcement , roughly 3,000 denizens filled every crevice throughout the Scarlet Knights’ 1975-76 Final Four campaign. In 2017 its floor was dedicated as “Jimmy V Court” in honor of Valvano, who captained the 1967 squad to the NIT semifinals before coaching NC State to the 1983 NCAA title and co-founding the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
‘People don’t know the history’
“I’ve been raised on my dad talking about it; I’ve always wanted to see a basketball game there,” said freshman Anthony Partazana, who hails from North Brunswick and as a son of a Rutgers alum attended wrestling and volleyball matches there in the past. “Some people are skeptical about it, that it’s kind of this dinky old gym. A lot of people don’t know the history behind it.”
The gym is still used for events, intramurals and the occasional MidKnight Madness hoops tip-off, but women’s volleyball is the last regular intercollegiate tenant. Its current capacity is in the 1,200-1,500 range. The possibility of playing a men’s basketball game there was explored about a decade ago. The Big Ten Network raised logistic concerns about the facility’s contours; there was no easy access point for the necessary broadcast cables and no convenient place to park the production truck.
It also should be noted: Pulling a regular-season game out of the season-ticket package would be a financial hit for the athletic department.
Rutgers has 1,400 student season-ticket holders, representing a fraction of its overall season-ticket base. Seton Hall, which has 1,600 student season-ticket holders, conducted a lottery to select which of those students got seats Monday in Walsh.
Given the ferocity of Rutgers’ student section, imagine that scene squeezed into the Barn.
“When student tickets come out they sell out in a couple of hours, so I think there would definitely be a lot of interest in that,” said Ryan O’Connor, the Riot Squad’s president and a Freehold resident. “It’s a great idea. You put the loudest people in a confined space like that, it’s going to be rocking.”
Obviously there won’t be a Big Ten game at the Barn. Seton Hall played St. John’s at Walsh only because it was rescheduled due to COVID and the Prudential Center was booked. Rutgers has much more flexibility with Jersey Mike’s Arena. But the Hall does play one low-level, non-conference game in Walsh each season. It’s not unheard of. And the all-student crowd is an alluring idea.
‘It would just be nuts’
Perhaps this is something to back-pocket for the 50th anniversary of the Final Four season in three years. Rutgers officials have signaled that such a special-occasion event is not out of the question.
Holt, a Minneapolis native who attended Rutgers’ loss at Minnesota Saturday and visited Kansas’ legendary Phog Allen Fieldhouse for the Jayhawks’ showdown with Texas Tech Monday, said he thinks a student takeover of the Barn would stack up against any environment anywhere.
“It would be electric,” he said. “It would be unplayable for the other team on offense. It would just be nuts.”
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at email@example.com.