Bill Hass on the ACC: Tournament View From High in the Georgia Dome Can Be Surprising
March 13, 2009
By Bill Hass
ATLANTA - So you want to get away from 26,000 other ACC Tournament fans and go to a place where there are no lines for the restrooms or concessions stands and you get a nice, wide view of the court?
One option is going home and watching the action on TV.
Or you could go to the upper level of the Georgia Dome.
That's what Virginia fan Michael Walker of Collinsville, Va., did Thursday night to watch the Cavaliers play Boston College. He enjoyed it enough - not the part about seeing his team lose, of course - that he returned Friday wearing a hat of his second favorite team, Wake Forest.
"Since Virginia is out I'm going with them," he said of the Deacons.
Walker didn't start the tournament upstairs.
"Actually my seats are down there, behind the band, pretty far back," he said, gesturing to the floor level. "They're right on the aisle and all I saw the first three games were people walking by me. I'd have to look at the TV screen to see what was going on.
"So when Virginia's game came up, I decided to come up here so I could see the whole court pretty well. I like it up here better."
Walker was sitting about 10 rows up in the upper level. There were plenty of seats to choose from, and he didn't have anyone around him. Most of the several hundred people in the upper level during the afternoon session were sitting lower and cheering for North Carolina against Virginia Tech in the day's opening game.
It's not Walker's only experience sitting so high, but it's an improvement over the first one. He attended the ACC Tournament in 2001, its first year in the Dome, and sat near the top with a poor site line (note: these seats were part of the reduction from 41,000 capacity that year to the 36,000 capacity this year).
"That was weird because you couldn't even the ball bounce on the wood," he said. "It seemed like you were watching it from another time zone. At least over here I can still hear pretty well."
Walker said he does miss being with other fans, but believes the tradeoff is worth it. Now he can relax and not have to worry about anyone walking in front of him.
Howard Jarvis and Becky Swartz, both from Warner Robbins, Ga., also had tickets on the floor but decided to move higher up.
"We just thought we could see better, and actually we can," said Jarvis, a Georgia Tech fan. "If you're down there you can't see the whole court."
Swartz was a little uncomfortable from her seat on the second row.
"Uhhhh, I think I'm about to fall off or something," she said. "I'm up kinda high. But I agree with him - we can see better."
There are two ways to reach the upper level, by ramp or by elevator. Both skip past the club level seats and two levels of suites. The upper level actually isn't the highest point in the Dome. There's an observation level that is off limits to the public.
There isn't any reason for a fan to sit in the last row because there are plenty of seats. But if someone wanted to, they could come out of the tunnel, turn and walk up 60 steps to reach their perch.
Up this high, you get an impression that you're in the inner works of the Hindenburg. The Teflon roof looks similar to the covering of a dirigible and the catwalks that crisscross underneath the roof resemble an airship's metal skeleton.
Once you get that image out of your mind, however, things are a bit surprising from just off center court. The public address system is clear with no echo (the speakers are right there in the catwalks). The crowd noise gets loud, but you're above it rather than immersed in it. You can see the patterns of offense and defense as they unfold.
One oddity: From this high, you're looking down on the big scoreboard over the court, quite a different perspective and easier than always craning your neck to look up.
Obviously there are things you give up. You can see the players' numbers but not their facial features. You can't see the sweat fly off their bodies or hear the grunts as they collide.
Everything considered, though, it's not at all bad and something you could get used to.
Jim and Karen Rhew, Duke fans from Raleigh, N.C., bought their tickets from the public sale. They knew their seats would be in the upper level, so they came prepared with binoculars.
"We had to get two pair," Karen said. "We didn't know how high (the seats) would be, so we stopped and bought them at Wal-Mart on the way here. Actually, we can see pretty well from up here."
Jim Rhew wasn't quite as happy, indicating he might prefer to watch the event on TV. Either that or approach some Virginia Tech fans, after the Hokies lost to North Carolina, and see if they wanted to sell their tickets.
But the Rhews just wanted to cheer for Duke. Could they live with sitting in the upper level if the Blue Devils beat Boston College Friday night?
"Yes," they said in unison.
Troy Walton, a diehard Florida State fan from Atlanta, knew what he was in for in the upper deck because he watched the Southeastern Conference tournament here last year.
"You can see the whole court," he said. "It's kind of out of the way, you know what I mean? A little too high for me. But I can get used to it."
Besides, he the likes the fact that the concessions and restroom lines are short or nonexistent.
"That's a good thing," Walton said. "That's a great thing."
Moving around, the view varies. In the end zone, it's hard to see the rim and the net of the closest basket. The backboard obscures the view of anyone on the foul line. But the scoreboard is closer to eye level.
Slide over a little more, so you're at an angle to the corner of the court, and things improve. You still can't see the nearest basket very well, but you can see the net move when a shot goes through.
There are pros and cons about the view from on high and it's not for everyone. But if you're looking to get away from the maddening crowd, go on up, relax and enjoy the games. You just might want to stay awhile.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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