When Loyola was putting the finishing touches on its victory over Bradley on Saturday night, a sold-out Gentile Arena crowd was booming. The crowd of 4,963 reverberated throughout the arena at multiple points throughout the game and could be felt in the back rows.
Ramblers’ head coach Porter Moser could fire up the crowd at a moment’s notice by waving his arms at a packed student section. It was an undeniable home court advantage.
It’s an advantage that has propelled LUC to a 10-2 record at their on-campus arena. It’s one that will likely only get better as the season goes on, as the team is close to selling out the remainder of its home games.
The Braves have known Loyola’s advantage better than any team, as they haven’t won in Rogers Park since January of 2016.
All this begs the question: Does a smaller arena create a better atmosphere for homecourt advantage?
Bradley plays its home games in Carver Arena at the Peoria Civic Center, a near polar opposite of Gentile Arena. It’s off-campus and is over twice the size.
Personally, I enjoy making the three-minute trip down to Carver for Bradley games. Every game feels like a big one when you walk into the largest arena in the conference. It almost has an NBA-type feel.
And that’s part of the problem.
Despite leading the Missouri Valley Conference in attendance the past few seasons, the Braves struggle to fill Carver Arena. This season’s average home crowd of 5,465 still leaves half of the arena of about 11,000 seats empty. In comparison, Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium seats 9,314.
Most students on the Hilltop don’t share my affinity for Peoria’s largest venue. Despite the short trip, free shuttles and cheap tickets, student attendance is weak. Some of this can be blamed on the fact that games aren’t held on campus.
Bradley has an on-campus arena very similar to Gentile in Renaissance Coliseum. The 10-year old arena seats 4,200.
It would take a small renovation to add seats and parking to be able to host crowds of 5,000 plus at RenCo, which would cost time and money, but it could be worth it.
If the Braves held their average attendance at over 5,000, every game would be jam-packed. The crowd noise would be intense. Instead of sound fading deep into the cavernous Carver Arena, it would bounce off the ceiling and walls of the considerably smaller RenCo.
Student attendance would get a nice boost with the games being held within walking distance of classes, dorms and fraternities and sororities.
Carver Arena’s large capacity provides the amenities needed to host the largest crowds in the Valley, which is a big plus. It would be hard to recreate that on Bradley’s campus.
It would be remiss to assume the athletic department hasn’t looked into moving home games back to campus and there are solid, quantifiable reasons for keeping the games downtown.
However, concentrating the Valley’s biggest attendance numbers into the smaller and louder venue of Renaissance Coliseum has the potential to create a hostile atmosphere for opponents, similar to that of the legendary Robertson Memorial Field House.
The team has played a few pre-season games on campus in the past, so why not try it again for some exhibition and or non-conference matchups?
Fans should keep an open mind to playing games on campus again. RenCo deserves a good look, and perhaps more importantly, a good listen.