The iconic Nebraska Coliseum, the Madison Square Garden-like home of the Nebraska women’s team, hosted its final NCAA match in late November in front of 4,184 fans who cheered the Huskers on to victory over Northern Iowa.
Nebraska will move into the renovated Bob Devaney Sports Center this fall. The Devaney Center is the soon-to-be former home of the Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball teams. (The Nebraska volleyball team had occasionally played matches in the much larger Devaney Center.) The basketball teams are moving into the new 15,000 seat, $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln next season.
Devaney is undergoing a $20.5 million renovation that includes a 10,000 square foot grand entrance addition on the south side, interior renovation of the arena level, concourse level, and arena interior. Premium seating will be added with the addition of suites and a new premium seating hospitality room. Construction of a volleyball locker room and new volleyball offices is also included in the project. Arena renovation also includes an Olympic volleyball playing surface along with floor-level seating moved closer to the court. Construction started in the summer of 2012.
The Huskers and their fans leave behind a storied relationship with the Nebraska Coliseum, which dates back to the 1920s and was redesigned specifically for volleyball in 1992. The Coliseum sits on the university’s campus and is known for its Roman columns at the front steps and its intimate atmosphere inside.
Terry Pettit and John Cook are Nebraska’s two most successful women’s volleyball coaches. In the team’s 2012 media guide, they perfectly summed up in how special the 4,030 seat facility is.
“Winston Churchill said, ‘in the beginning, we build buildings. In the end, we are shaped by the buildings we live in,’” Pettit said. “I think the Coliseum shapes Nebraska volleyball.”
Cook added, “If the volleyball gods wanted to build a volleyball court, the Coliseum would be it.”
The numbers show Nebraska teams enjoyed a tremendous home-court advantage playing mainly in the Coliseum and select dates in Devaney and at the Qwest Center (now called the CenturyLink Center) in Omaha. Nebraska owns a 559-38 record at home counting from 1975 and sold out its last 181 matches at the Coliseum – a streak that dates back to 2001. Single-match tickets in 2012 sold out in only 20 minutes and the team played to 102 percent capacity at the Coliseum in 2011. Nebraska has averaged more than 3,000 fans for 18 of the past 20 seasons and has ranked in the top three nationally in attendance each year for more than 20 years.
“It’s a great volleyball facility because of the way it’s shaped,” Cook told Volleyball. “Everybody feels a part of the action. In the old days when I was a kid I remember the prize fights where it’s all dark and the only light is on the ring. That’s what the Coliseum is. It has a lot of tradition and history, and a lot of winning has gone on in there.”
Cook said the building plays into the hands of both Nebraska and its opposition.
“Sometimes I’m not sure how big of an advantage it is,” he said. “Teams that come in and aren’t used to playing in front of big crowds play great because they are so excited to be there. A lot of times they play better at the Coliseum than on their home court. But when it gets to those big points, it definitely gives Nebraska an advantage because the crowd is incredibly loud.”
Cook experienced the visiting side of things when he was the head coach at Wisconsin.
“I’ve been on both sides,” he said. “When we played there when I was at Wisconsin and now coaching Nebraska, there have been nights when it gets so loud that the floor shakes.”
A large chunk of the building’s lore is undoubtedly the result of Nebraska’s incredibly loyal and knowledgeable fan base.
“There’s a 40 year love affair between the state and this sport and this building. [The Coliseum] is where that relationship is most visible,” said Nebraska women’s volleyball radio broadcaster John Baylor. “The Coliseum represents the nexus between a state, its university, and a beloved sport. The winning has certainly helped grow the fan base as well. You walk into the Coliseum and expect a win and about 90 percent of the time you are right.”
Baylor is struck by how close fans were to the Coliseum action. “The players, coaches and broadcasters are right next to the fans,” he said. “When he does television commentary, Karch Kiraly sits on a bench only feet from fans. When the players emerge from the locker room, they walk through the packed concourse showered by the fans’ well wishes. Those unique memories make me smile.
“The Coliseum is a ‘House of Miracles,’ responsible for one or two wins a year. Ex-players say there’s no volleyball venue like it anywhere. The architecture, the brick, the intimacy, the acoustics and the fans combine to make it an unparalleled home court advantage in the sport.”
Former Nebraska player Brigette Root noted the fans provided a huge boost to the teams she played on.
“It was awesome as a player being able to play there,” she said. “The fans are right on top of you, basically pulling on your spandex. When you score a big point or when you are down and need big points, you can feel the energy from the fans. But on game day, there was definitely a magic that turned on. The Coliseum came to life on game day.”
Pettit, who won 694 matches while coaching Nebraska and directed the Huskers to the 1995 NCAA title, puts the Coliseum in an elite category with Hawaii’s old Klum Gym and the University of Illinois’ old Kenney Gym as well-known volleyball facilities that came out of the Title IX era.
“When Title IX began, a lot of volleyball programs were forced to play in the main arenas,” Pettit said. “Hawaii had Klum Gym that sat 2,000 probably and Illinois’ gym was set up for 1,500 and then you had the Coliseum, which was originally set up for 2,000 fans. Those three programs had very consistent success. It’s set up like a theater with the light above the court. When you are there, you feel important as opposed to the building feeling important.”
In addition to moving into a more modern facility, the switch to Devaney was done in part to further increase Nebraska’s rabid fan base. Season tickets and single-game tickets in the Coliseum tended to be hard to come by due to the longtime loyal season-ticket fan base. With the renovations, Devaney is expected to seat between 6,000 and 9,000, a nice increase from the 4,030 seat capacity in the Coliseum.
“There have been fans that have had season tickets in the Coliseum since they first started selling them,” said Cook, who has led Nebraska to two NCAA titles. “Why leave the Coliseum? The reality is there is no student section in the Coliseum, and high school kids can’t get into the matches. There are generations of young fans that may miss out because people have had season tickets for so long.
“For the long-term growth of the program, the move is going to make it a better fan experience. We feel like we can sell out 7,000 seats.”
Pettit also agrees with the move to Devaney.
“You can’t go two or three generations of fans not being able to see the team play,” he said. “It’s not healthy.”
Cook recalled looking out of his office in the Coliseum and being floored by the history he observed.
“For me it’s the ambiance,” he said. “I saw all the names on the wall and all the banners and retired jerseys and the huge photos. It’s probably like going to the [old] Boston Garden or the old Chicago Stadium. It feels good to be in the Coliseum because you feel like you are around greatness.”
Colesium: By The Numbers
- Redesigned specifically for volleyball in 1992
- Seats 4,030 spectators
- 559-38 record at home (since 1975)
- Sold out the last 181 volleyball matches
- 2012 single-match tickets sold out in 20 minutes
- Averaged more than 3,000 fans for 18 of the past 20 seasons
- Ranked in the top 3 nationally in attendance for more than 20 years
Originally published in March/April 2013