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A Decade in the Big Ten: Ranking League Volleyball Arenas

The No. 1 pick may result in pitchforks and tiki torches...

Kevin Knight

With the decade mark having come and gone on Thursday, July 1, I bring you the final installment of this series looking at the 14 volleyball arenas the Big Ten Conference features.

Did you miss any of the previous rankings? Then catch them here:

I have been to one college volleyball game in my life, and it was by total coincidence of our eventual co-maid of honor’s family having two extra tickets to Michigan State at Nebraska the Friday night prior to the same matchup in football the next day. Volleyball I find far more interesting than baseball, but it’s not a sport I follow and so once again these rankings are merely based on the venue’s capacity and appearance pretty much.

I’m not getting into home win percentage or fancy metrics, in part because at the non-revenue level that starts to get really difficult to track down. Just finding pictures of these venues I have access to publish is difficult enough. So without further ado, here are the rankings.

My Criteria:

  • Which ones look the best
  • Capacity
  • Does it have something cool that happened there, whether related to volleyball or not

14. College Ave. Gym

  • Rutgers
  • Opened: 1932
  • Capacity: 2,500
  • Nickname: The Barn

Fun fact about this arena is it was built on the site where Princeton played Rutgers in the first ever “college football game.” Not fun fact is that happened longer before there was an arena actually built on the site for indoor sports. Apparently the Scarlet Knights installed a Taraflex floor in 2017, which is a premier surface in that the past 11 summer Olympics used it. That is lost on me, but if the Olympics do it, it is probably high quality.

13. Cliff Keen Arena

  • Michigan
  • Opened: 1956
  • Capacity: 1,800
  • Previous Names: Matt Mann Pool and Varsity Arena

I may or may not have green glasses on for this one. It is an entirely bland arena that looks like it used to host theatre in the round shows to be frank. It actually used to at one time hose the swimming and diving team. Since after my husband was born, but before I was, it has been the home of UM Volleyball, a 3-1 win over the Central Michigan Chippewas on Sept. 8, 1989. It also hosts wrestling and men’s gymnastics.

12. Xfinity Center Pavilion

  • Maryland
  • Opened: 2002
  • Capacity: 1,500

I have literally no idea where this arena is exactly on Maryland’s campus in that it is part of the Xfinity Center, but yet a separate arena somehow snuck into part of the facility. I haven’t exactly explored all the depths and parts of the Xfinity Center by any means, but I am totally unsure where this would be located within there.

Nothing too fancy here. It is certainly shiny and nice looking, but at the same time feels very high school gym like, except I think my high school’s gym had a larger capacity, and I went to a small high school in a town whose population would take almost five towns to fill the actual Xfinity Center. Anyways, the space also plays host to the school’s wrestling team.

11. Xtream Arena

  • Iowa
  • Opened: 2020
  • Capacity: 5,100
  • This arena killed Coralville, Iowa’s investment-grade bond rating as a result of its construction.

An off-campus arena in neighboring Coralville, though a mere six minute drive or so from Carver-Hawkeye Arena, still loses some points. Also dinging the arena is the fact it is laid out with the seats set far back from the action in the ends due to being an arena designed more for hockey. All told, sharing it with only a non-school team dings them in my book, especially when the arena is such a non-college venue in its name and interior design as far as I can tell.

10. Belin Court at Holloway Gymnasium

  • Purdue
  • Opened: 1982
  • Capacity: 2,288
  • Last Renovated: 2006
  • Previous Names: Intercollegiate Athletic Facility

Again, sort of feels like a high school in a way, but the court is most definitely designed for volleyball and feels a little more grand than Maryland’s. The venue also features this noteworthy distinction: “The original court was the first one in the country to be fully painted and lined for volleyball only, unobstructed by a basketball court.” The space also plays hosts to the wrestling team.

9. Huff Hall

  • Illinois
  • Opened: 1925
  • Capacity: 4,050
  • Previous Names: New Gymnasium

Previously home to the basketball teams, Huff Hall is an old venue that now exclusively hosts wrestling, volleyball, and the men’s and women’s gymnastics teams for competition. It has the old enough to now be cool vibe going for it over some of the newer and blander facilities behind it in the rankings, but lacks much of anything else noteworthy I am aware of.

8. Wilkinson Hall

  • Indiana
  • Opened: 2019
  • Capacity: 3,000

The first of two venues opened very recently in the league, Indiana’s Wilkinson Hall moves out of the old and otherwise unnoteworthy or high school gym styles and into the shiny and fancy venue or old and historic parts of the list. Obviously, this one is new and fancy. Not really a whole lot more I have to contribute beyond saying it looks sharp, though perhaps some of the back seats are just a tiny bit too far from the action? Like most of these venues, it also plays host to the school’s wrestling team.

7. Covelli Center

Yet another shiny new arena in the Big Ten as of 2019, the Covelli Center opened in the summer of 2019 for seven different Ohio State varsity sports. The volleyball arena within the 100,000+ square foot facility looks quite sharp, and the windows along one side of the arena give it the edge over some of the other competition. The arena hosts men’s and women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s gymnastics, fencing, and wrestling competitions, and an occasional women’s basketball game.

6. Welsh Ryan Arena

  • Northwestern
  • Opened: 1952
  • Capacity: 7,039
  • Major Renovation: 2018

I’m a sucker for Welsh-Ryan Arena post renovation. Since it is home to the volleyball team in addition to the basketball teams, Welsh-Ryan gets a prominent location in the upper half of the league as a result.

5. Wisconsin Field House

  • Wisconsin (as if you couldn’t guess)
  • Opened: 1930
  • Capacity: 7,052 (down from a peak 10,600 from 1977-1998)
  • Last renovated: 2014

In a way, Wisconsin’s Field House is probably criminally underrated as a venue. Just alone by the fact the arena is butted up against the football stadium is awesome. Add in the old ass historic facades and unique facts like it is supposedly where the UW President told students about the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, one special place it makes.

However, the ones ahead of it have something a little too noteworthy of an edge when it comes to volleyball or something else to edge this historic arena. It currently is home to Wisconsin volleyball and wrestling, but at one time also hosted boxing, along with men’s and women’s basketball.

4. Recreation Building

  • Penn State
  • Opened: 1929
  • Capacity: 6,846
  • Nickname: Rec Hall

Penn State is up at the top of the conference when it comes to volleyball powerhouses. The Nittany Lions home venue certainly helps reinforce that as a mixture of historic and aged venue that has been given plenty of love over the years and makes for an outstanding venue today. The arena also plays host to the men’s volleyball team, the men’s and women’s gymnastics teams, and the wrestling team.

3. Jenison Fieldhouse

  • Michigan State
  • Opened: 1940
  • Capacity: 4,900 for volleyball
  • Last Renovation: 2001

I told you this ranking would have some extra credit categories for noteworthy historical moments that aren’t always connected to volleyball. Surprise, that category is extra beneficial to Michigan State’s very own Jenison Fieldhouse. What makes this old venue that once upon a time hosted 12,500 screaming basketball fans (15,000 when standing room areas were also allowed) so special then?

Well, to begin with, Magic Johnson played two years of college basketball in this venue and won a national title here. No other venue on this list can claim as much during the modern era of the NCAA Tournament. While that has little to do with volleyball, don’t pretend like that isn’t still significant as a venue. However, more importantly legacy-wise is the fact Jenison was the host of the 1963 NCAA Mideast Regionals.

What makes that so special? Clearly you have never heard of the “Game of Change,” and please take this as an opportunity to learn of an important moment in the integration of college athletics. A full three years before the Kentucky-Texas Western game that inspired Glory Road, an unintegrated Mississippi State team snuck out of town, defying an injunction issued by the state governor, and eventually made their way in a roundabout method to East Lansing to take on the Loyola Ramblers and their five Black starters. Michigan State’s home basketball arena played host to that southern MSU and, in the process, was a moment mostly lost to history, but oh so important in the evolution of college athletics.

Mississippi State University vs Loyola University Chicago, 1963 NCAA Mideast Regional Semifinals Set Number: X9101

Anyways, as a volleyball arena today, Jenison is perfectly serviceable and fits squarely into the “cool historic” category. It has the seventh largest capacity among the league, just squeezing into the top half. It is also home to the women’s gymnastics, wrestling, and men’s and women’s track & field teams for indoor competition.

2. Bob Devaney Sports Center

  • Nebraska (which, obviously, you all knew)
  • Opened: 1976
  • Capacity: 7,907
  • Renovated for Volleyball: 2013
Husker Athletic Communications

Blasphemy on me as I ranked Davaney No. 2!

Look, the games here are must attend for college volleyball fans. I am not saying the arena isn’t special in the hierarchy of college volleyball venues, but the fact is that this is the only arena I have been to an actual game at and at the end of the day it is the team and fans that make this venue a must visit, not the other way around. Devaney is a perfectly suited arena, but there really isn’t anything here about the physical structure itself that sets it apart as a special facility to me. It is hardly old enough of a venue to fit that cool historical venue category, after all it doesn’t even predate World War II!

The basketball program had some noteworthy wins as far as Husker hoops fans go, but nothing that really matters on a national stage (that NIT banner is nice and all, but it doesn’t move the needle in the end). Nor does Devaney Center have a long and distinguished history as a volleyball arena yet having played home to Husker volleyball for a mere eight seasons to date. Nebraska volleyball could play at PBA instead and the games would be just as well attended and a “must see” volleyball match because it’s the program that makes it that way, not the venue.

The space also plays host to wrestling and men’s and women’s gymnastics, while the overall facility hosts women’s swimming and diving and indoor track and field competitions, along with the practice facilities for men’s and women’s basketball.

1.Maturi Pavilion

  • Minnesota
  • Opened: I really can’t find an answer for this and I’m not spending a long time scouring the internet for it, but it is old
  • Capacity: 5,700
2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Gymnastics Championship Photo by Carlos Gonzalez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Originally home to the men’s ice hockey team, the facility was renamed Maturi Pavilion in 2017. This place just looks freaking awesome in the old and cool category. Much like Williams Arena for college basketball, this place just feels like it oozes history from the seams. Even if Minnesota volleyball is having a down year, the place seems like a must visit if you’re in the Minneapolis area and have a free evening that coincides with a game.

Jon has shot a ton of events here and has high praise for the venue as well. Fans apparently make it a special place to go to a game at, too. Sorry to the Devaney Center, but when looking at venues rather than programs, Minnesota gets the edge in my book. The arena plays host to women’s gymnastics and wrestling as well.

There you have it, the volleyball arenas of the Big Ten ranked from No. 14 all the way to No. 1. How do you rank them, which have you been to, and which are highest on your bucket list you haven’t been to? Let us know in the comments!