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Rediscovering Happy Valley: Rec Hall Needs to Become Full-Time Venue

by and on December 28, 2013 2:00 PM

Finally.

That’s about all I was thinking as I walked around Rec Hall during the Penn State men’s basketball team’s pre-game activities against Princeton.

Also this: There’s no good argument anyone can make that will convince me Penn State shouldn’t play all of its home games at Rec Hall.

There were numerous well-written articles penned last week in the run-up to the game, detailing personal memories. Ryan Jones’ guest column to Black Shoe Diaries especially stands out. If you have a minute, check it out. Well worth your time.

Everyone has a Rec Hall memory. I have plenty.

I remember watching Penn State host Michigan and The Fab Five, who at one point orchestrated an off-the-backboard dunk and made it seem routine. I also remember sneaking into the building during Christmas holidays when I was in high school and my friends and I wanted to play pickup basketball.

The truth is, there were probably other places where we could play but Rec Hall was just so cool that it was worth the risk of getting caught, which never happened.

Rec Hall has character and charm. Draw your own conclusions about the Bryce Jordan Center. More importantly, Penn State basketball at Rec Hall is exciting, energetic and creates eager anticipation. What high school recruit wouldn’t get excited at that description of a college program? Throw in the added incentive that a kid can come here and help re-establish a program and a coach already has his built-in recruiting pitch.

I was in junior high when the team moved from Rec Hall to the Bryce Jordan Center, so I can’t speak much to the politics behind the shift, though I’m sure it had something to do with more seats equals more money, more concession revenue, more parking revenue, etc.

Maybe that made sense in theory, but I don’t see the value in extra possible revenue when a 16,000-seat arena sits two-thirds empty for most games.

That’s why Penn State basketball needs to return to Rec Hall on a permanent basis. And yes, even as I say this, I realize this will never happen. I’m guessing mostly because athletic administrators would hate the ensuing PR mess, but it would be worth it.

It would be worth it because it would give Penn State the best chance at becoming relevant on a national scale in basketball. It would be worth it because it would create an enormous home-court advantage. And it would be worth it because it would have the chance of generating the same type of buzz at a school that plays in essentially the same type of gym, a team that’s made the Final Four twice in recent memory: The Butler Bulldogs.

I’ve been to Hinkle Fieldhouse, the 10,000-seat home of Butler, near Indianapolis. There, I watched Butler and Duke battle for the NCAA title in nearby Lucas Oil Stadium a few years ago. The game was shown on six jumbotron screens that occupied the court at Hinkle, and I was there to capture the spirit of the crowd.

I can’t compare the energy of a crowd watching an NCAA Championship game to that of a regular season game at Rec Hall, but the structure of the gym struck me. It immediately reminded me of Rec Hall.

Hinkle seats a few more thousand than Rec Hall but they both permeate the same down-home toughness that can get lost in an arena as large as the Bryce Jordan Center.

After the Princeton game, I’m more certain than ever nobody will ever convince me that Penn State shouldn’t play all of its home games at Rec Hall. The place possesses a special combination of small-town charm and basketball muscle that could make Nittany Lion basketball a special and unique program.

I talked to two students before the game who spoke with so much enthusiasm it made me wish athletic administrators were standing beside me, listening to the direct impact playing in Rec Hall had on these two freshman students who are also season-ticket holders.

None of this is to say the team can’t do well in the BJC. Critics have plenty of ammo after the team’s second-half meltdown in Saturday’s overtime loss but Penn State should be competitive in every conference game.

Moving home games to Rec Hall wouldn’t be a gimmick or a sign that the university made a mistake with the BJC, which by the way, is so much more than just a basketball arena so lost revenue wouldn’t be a huge concern.

Parking and other logistics would probably cause headaches but it’s nothing that Penn State isn’t equipped to handle. Fans could still park at the BJC lots and buses could shuttle them across campus for games. Maybe a new tradition could be created with fans welcoming the team as players and coaches exit the bus after leaving the BJC, which the team could still consider its headquarters and where Penn State could keep intact its offices, workout facilities and gym spaces.

Practice, lift weights and watch film at the BJC, but play the games at Rec Hall.

It’s just that University Park boasts so many unique features: the aforementioned shrine, the creamery, etc., and it makes sense to highlight what truly makes Penn State so special.

Rec Hall is another of those unique features. It’s time to start using it more often.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


John covers sports for the Gazette.
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