Tonight's the night. After 83 years at MacArthur Court, the quirky but beloved home of Oregon hoops, the Phil Knight-powered Ducks will unveil Matthew Knight Arena Thursday. The Ducks may be rebuilding on the floor, but when it comes to resources and marketing -- see: Oregon's insane football uniform varieties -- Oregon is one of the best in the nation.
You've already heard about the Ducks' court, an oh-so-Oregon design that is simultaneously respectful, interesting, rich in tradition and logistically confusing. But what about the atmosphere? Mac Court was old and rusty, sure, but it was an extremely difficult place for road teams to play. Will the Ducks' new home -- a glittering $227 million project that essentially makes it the Cowboys Stadium of college basketball, giant Jumbotron and all -- lose something in the transfer?
Oregon coach Dana Altman doesn't think so. From the Oregonian:
“I think our fans are really going to like the atmosphere,” first-year Ducks coach Dana Altman said. “I don't know if there's any one, specific thing. It's just a real nice arena and one that I think the Pac-10 will really enjoy. The atmosphere in Mac Court was unbelievable, and on game day it was a great place to play. But the other 330 days when we didn't have a home game, it left a little bit to be desired.”
How did the designers of "Matt Court" -- as it's since been cleverly termed -- attempt to create that atmosphere? According to a press release from Ellerbe Bracket, the company that designed Matthew Knight Arena, designer Jon Niemuth tried to recreate the "seating bowl" that made Mac Court so unique.
To create a modern arena with the intimate fan experience provided at Mac Court, Ellerbe Becket incorporated feedback from the athletic department, administration, students, alumni, neighbors and major donors. One primary goal in the design of “Matt Court” was to establish an intimate house for basketball, with a vision of creating a “Theater for Basketball.” The new arena has a capacity of 12,500 and preserves an intimate, intimidating feel with a seating bowl pitched at 36 degrees in the student section and upper level – the steepest pitch allowed by code.
“We wanted to make sure the seating bowl fit into the experience of the game – not just the building,” said Niemuth. “The university passed on modern luxury boxes to avoid the upper seats being pushed farther from the floor. Design of the arena was a true collaboration of people who had passion and pride for the historical sports facility it replaced.”
I'm not exactly sure what all of that means. (Thirty-six degrees of pitch? You don't say!) But it sounds fairly impressive, I guess.
Then again, it doesn't matter what I, Dana Altman, or the project's designers think. The real test of any arena is how its fans feel when they walk through the turnstiles. After all, what's the point of a building capable of seating 13,000 people if 13,000 people don't feel that collective rush that defines so many great sports venues? That test will come tonight, when Ducks fans pack the new arena and see for themselves what the hubbub is really all about. Have fun, guys.
(Speaking of which, memo to Ducks fans: If you attend tonight's game and want to give readers an account of what the new arena feels like for fans in the stands, send us an e-mail with your thoughts. If it's worthwhile, we'll publish your take on Friday, or at least in next week's Hoopsbag.)