Behind the Scenes of the Versatile Bryce Jordan Center
For nearly 20 years, the Bryce Jordan Center has been the home of Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball games and various entertainment, University, and family-friendly events. Those who have brushed up on their Penn State history know the venue was named after the 14th University president, Bryce Jordan, but the building has many other interesting tidbits in its history.
Construction began in December 1993, but bad weather conditions in the winter of 1994 set back its completion. The next winter was mild, which allowed for construction to speed up, and the building was ready in time for the winter commencement ceremony on Jan. 6, 1996. This was the first event held in the BJC, where Jordan himself addressed the graduates at the ceremony.
Nearly three months after its opening, the formal dedication of the building was held March 30, 1996.
Eighteen years later, the 360,000-square foot arena is still the largest venue between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. More than $50 million was used to build the BJC — $20 million came from private donations, with more than $30 million coming from state appropriations. The third-largest arena in Pennsylvania, the BJC has a capacity of 15,261 people with 11 concession stands, 140 offices, and six conference rooms.
Let’s Play Basketball
Prior to the Bryce Jordan Center’s construction, Rec Hall was the home to Penn State Basketball. When the University was accepted into the Big Ten in the early 1990s, however, the venue was deemed too small to hold Big Ten basketball games. Rec Hall is 6,846 square feet, half the size of most Big Ten arenas. The BJC’s construction came about three years after the football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball teams were approved for Big Ten play in 1992-93, bringing Penn State to forefront of college basketball.
After plans for the BJC were put into motion in the mid-1990s, head football coach Joe Paterno showed support for the facility and urged for its quick completion.
“The facility will bring Penn State up to par with Big Ten schools for recruiting some of the nation’s best basketball players and other athletes,” Paterno said at the time. “We can’t move our intercollegiate programs into the twenty-first century without it, and we need the project moving quickly.”
The portal basketball floor is the largest in the world, weighing in at 40 tons. The scoreboard is a beast, too — the 15,000 pound cube hangs 94 feet above the center of the floor. The building also has an auxiliary practice gym, 10 locker rooms, a weight room, press room, coaches’ rooms, first aid room, and a green room, among many other rooms for the teams and entertainers.
The men’s team opened up the arena with a 76-61 win over Minnesota, setting the tone for Jerry Dunn’s Big Ten runner-up squad. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams utilize the BJC the most throughout the year. The BJC has also hosted preseason NBA featuring teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Michael Jordan’s Washington Wizards. In addition to playing at the BJC, the Sixers have used the BJC as a training camp facility at various points over the years, said Bernie Punt, BJC Director of Marketing and Sales.
Basketball isn’t the only sport that takes to the court in the venue, as collegiate wrestling, volleyball, and gymnastics are some of the few that have been hosted events in the arena, Punt said. Monster trucks, BMX, skateboard competitions, and bull riding have also called the Bryce Jordan Center home. Despite the accommodations needed for each sport, Punt said the biggest challenge was the “load-in and load-out… [of] the dirt for the bull riding.”
Basketball attendance compared to music and other events are very similar, Punt said, as weekends attract the largest crowds depending on the opponent or the stage headliner. “We have slower sales on weekdays with opponents and headliners who have not developed a major following yet,” he said. “Everything else falls in the middle with sales to both programs.”
Music For The Masses
It seems as if the BJC was built at the perfect time, just before the careers of today’s pop and country icons boomed in the late 1990s and into the 2000s.
Britney Spears was one of the many musical icons that performed at the BJC at the start of the new millennium, along with every popular boy band you can think from the time — The Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and 98 Degrees. Spears performed at the BJC on Nov. 8, 2001 during the North American leg of her “Dream Within a Dream” tour.
Country legend Garth Brooks had a five-date residency at the arena in 1997, which was one of the fastest sellouts in BJC history. Brooks held the fastest sellout record at the BJC until tickets for Taylor Swift‘s Fearless tour in 2009 sold out within 12 minutes, Punt said.
“I think if the technology was available in 1997 as it is today when we went on sale for Garth, it would have been just as fast,” Punt said. “The quickness of sellouts is determined by an artist with extremely high demand for tickets and the progress of ticket-selling technology.”
Punt recently made a spreadsheet of all the performers who have graced the stage of the Center, filled with a plethora of performers that’s almost too many to count. Bill Gaither holds the record of most appearances with a total of eight, with the Dave Matthews Band and Rascal Flatts coming just behind with six times each.
In a Daily Collegian editorial on April 16, 2004, it mentioned that the BJC was not “student-friendly” in the entertainment it was bringing. “Here’s what the BJC has seen this semester: a third-rate circus, monster trucks and Train, which has played small-scale clubs around its BJC tour stop,” the editorial said.
It’s interesting seeing a claim that the BJC wasn’t student-friendly, considering Spears, various boy bands, and other popular musicians and acts have performed there over the years. Not to mention the 2004 performer list prior to the editorial included Train, as well as Kenny Chesney — with then-up-and-comers Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley as opening acts — and Toby Keith with Blake Shelton. Later that year, Yellowcard, the Dave Matthews Band, and Ludacris also performed.
2009 was the year to be a teenage fan in Centre County, as all the major rising stars in the music business made appearances at the BJC on their tours: Taylor Swift with Kelly Pickler and Gloriana, a pre-twerking Miley Cyrus with her brother Trace’s band Metro Station, and the Jonas Brothers and Demi Lovato.
Country music is prominent in the lineups and history of the BJC — at least two country music concerts are scheduled per semester at the arena. According to the Top 40 Musical Universities study released in September by Spotify, only 8 percent of the Penn State population listens to country music. So why all the country music concerts, you may ask?
Well, it’s more of a matter of luck. Punt said it depends on who is touring in the northeast during the year, so the number of country concerts, or any genre for that matter, can change per semester.
“It sometimes seems planned that way, but the touring industry is cyclical,” he said.
Punt said the BJC always gets a positive reception when country music artists are featured — “that’s why the A-list artists appear here.” He hinted that the spring will bring some “big-time shows,” no doubt adding more names to the star-studded list of performers at the BJC.
While many acts have graced the Bryce Jordan Center stage, some were scheduled but never had a chance to.
Rapper T.I. canceled a show back in 2010, most likely due to a series of arrests and jail time. Then, in fall of 2012, the BJC had a triple whammy within a month, with Green Day and Pretty Lights canceling and Tiesto rescheduling for a later date the next year. Lady Gaga’s hip injury last year prevented her from finishing her Born This Way Ball tour, which included a stop at Penn State.
“We had a stretch of unbelievable circumstances awhile back, which will happen from time to time, especially if you have been operating over 18 years,” he said.
The most recent cancelation was legendary pop icon Cher, who canceled her Dressed to Kill tour due to an infection in her kidney. The original date was Sept. 24, which was then postponed to Jan. 9, 2015, and finally canceled. Punt said by the time most acts cancel a stop, it’s too late to fill the spot.
“Our hope is always for a replay, as is (now was) the case with Cher,” he said.
THON: Party In The BJC
THON got its start in 1973, and moved from the White Building to Rec Hall in 1999. In 2006, the organization realized Rec Hall was too small for the record-breaking attendance and volunteer numbers, and much like the basketball teams, THON had to move to the BJC.
Since 2007, the BJC has housed the rapidly growing 46-hour dance marathon every February, seeing record-breaking totals over the years, including last year’s massive record total of $13,343,517.33.
Sam Shively, a THON media relations captain, said THON has definitely become a staple of the BJC history since the move from Rec Hall.
“Because of that, the BJC and THON staffs work year round to ensure that the BJC can handle the growing number of participants in a safe and efficient manner,” Shively said. “With more than 15,000 volunteers participating today, Rec Hall could not have safely housed that number of volunteers.”
Punt said that for the BJC staff, the benefit of housing THON is “more personal than professional.”
“[THON] and the quality and dedication of the students running it year in and year out are simply amazing to us,” he said. “To have that kind of changeover in leadership each year and not only not missing a beat, but being able to take it to new heights, is mind-boggling.”
He said the staff is always proud to put in the long hours over the weekend that is “necessary to help make it successful… for the kids.”
In case you couldn’t tell, Punt said the focus is always to use the arena as a “multipurpose facility.” But with so many events, there is a ranking of how events are scheduled throughout the year. University events such as commencements and THON have priority, followed by Penn State athletic events. Basketball games are reserved before any other events are booked, followed by team practices, and then the remaining available dates are ready to be booked for other events.
So, next time you’re in the BJC, take a good look at the set-up, because chances are it’ll look completely different the very next day.
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About the Author
After losing my father to cancer, I thought there was nothing THON could offer me that I didn’t already know. After four years, I found comfort in the familiar.
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