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Original Issue

Snakebit in the Snakepit

The old Men's Gym at North Texas State was nicknamed the Snakepit, and lest any visiting player got the mad idea that the place was less frightening than it seemed, students trotted out a bull snake as a convincer. Snakes do not live in pits and never have, but the term, long used in sports, may derive from the Hopi Indian custom of throwing snakes into a pit of sacred meal and diving in after them during prayers for rain. We are not sure exactly what this accomplished, but college basketball coaches have been known to pray, too, when they find themselves within an opponent's pit. The worst of these are so small that fans in the balcony can block shots, so noisy with hometown support that teams huddle at midcourt during timeouts so they can hear themselves talk, and so old and ugly on the outside that visiting teams are almost too terrified to enter, let alone play winning ball once inside. Some of the most notorious dens of iniquity and antiquity—where the home court advantage over the last 10 years has averaged three wins to every loss—are shown on these pages. Sadly, perhaps they are a vanishing breed. This year, North Texas State, like so many other colleges recently, moves into a sumptuous new 10,000-seat arena. The architect calls it Superpit.

The front row is just a quick grab from the action at DePauw's Bowman Gym. Intimidated by the hostile home audience, visitors usually shoot poorly when their goal is dead in front of the student cheerers.

Marquette students are often outnumbered by the city people at Milwaukee Arena, which doubles as a home for the pro Bucks, but that does not make the crowd any less vociferous. To a stunning din, Al McGuire's Warriors won 81 in a row at home.

Because of its dingy lighting, Weber State's Wildcat Gym ranks a dim second to many high school courts in Utah—making the Wildcats almost invincible at home. They have been casting a dark spell on all those animals up there in the background.

The University of the Pacific's Stockton Auditorium, a converted theater, seats just 2,800 people, but when the roaring Tiger fans yell to beat the band, it sounds as if all the world's on stage.

San Francisco Coach Bob Gaillard describes the horrors of playing at Pacific: "After dressing in an oversized closet upstairs, you walk down a winding staircase and expect the Phantom of the Opera."

Down East is just downright bad at the University of Maine's Memorial Gym, where last year no visiting team would go on the floor first. Overflow crowds turn the place inside out and make the court—which is 10 feet short—look like a shoe box.