Malee: Trip to Corvallis reminds what Matthew Knight Arena is missing

They say you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

This is such a commonly used phrase that it’s almost cliche to say how cliche it is. And yet, it’s exactly what crossed my mind as I sat on press row at Gill Coliseum Sunday and took in another thrilling iteration of the Civil War. @@[email protected]@

You see, college basketball, more than any other American sport, is driven by its pulse. The best games at the most storied arenas have a distinct heartbeat to them, one that throbs ever louder and faster in a way that directly parallels the action on the floor. It’s what makes the game so popular, and often distracts from the overall sloppiness on the court (which grows more apparent every year).

Neither the Ducks nor the Beavers can count themselves among the nation’s most-storied programs, but for one evening, at least, the pulse of college basketball pumped through Corvallis.

The crowd, fluorescent in its orange garb, was boisterous and rowdy. It roared for Oregon State’s first basket like it was a game-winner, and jeered the hated Ducks mercilessly. When Garrett Sim had the nerve to bump shoulders with Jared Cunningham during a play stoppage, that pulse was jolted by an extra shot of adrenaline. The sea of orange booed Sim every time he touched the ball for the rest of the game, never satisfied with its previous showing of rancor.

It was a game of small runs — a 6-0 burst here, a 7-2 burst there — and the crowd was never taken out of the game. Oregon would prevail in the end, but no one who was there in person could deny that it was a hell of a game — probably the best of this dismal Pac-12 season.

It had a pulse, and as anyone who regularly attends Oregon home games can attest, these nights are few and far between at Matthew Knight Arena.

The latest edition to Phil Knight’s small city was all-new and exciting in the beginning — the shine, the gloss, even the mixed-green salad on the court had its charm.

But as time wore on, and the new car smell faded away, a dark truth began to emerge.

The place had no heart.

Say what you will about McArthur Court — and really, its time had probably passed — but the place certainly didn’t lack for character. On the best of nights, it thumped just as loud as any arena in the country. Sometimes, as legend has it, the place even felt like it was swaying, as if it could collapse at any moment. Gill Coliseum felt much the same way, at least on this Sunday night, and Matthew Knight Arena has yet to explode in a similar fashion. It hasn’t even come close.

Gone are the days of rumbling bleachers and unstable girders, replaced by booming acoustics and Duck Karaoke on the high-definition scoreboard. The loudest cheers you’ll hear from the home crowd come when it is prompted by the P.A. announcer to “GET LOUDER.” Rather than organic crowd energy, Matthew Knight Arena is sustained by the Jumbotron and silly fan trivia contests that have become something resembling a Pacemaker machine.

I watch all of this, blanching as the arena’s designated crowd liaison pulls a helpless fan out of their seat for yet another shameless promotion, and wonder how Oregon veered so far off course — how the athletic department can charge $16 for general admission (read: terrible) seats and expect fans to keep coming back. It seems lost on Oregon’s marketers that the great majority of fans buy tickets to watch basketball, not to win a free blooming onion.

It took a trip to Corvallis, of all places, for me to consider all of this, and for the first time since it closed, I truly missed Mac Court. It may have been a couple loose screws away from collapsing, but even as its doors shut, the heart and soul of the place remained fully intact.

Money and gray hot dogs are all that pulse through Matthew Knight Arena right now, and that’s a very sad thing indeed.

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