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Sojka & the BJC

Although having attended numerous events at Bucknell University’s Sojka Pavilion and the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State over the years a recent January weekend provided my first-ever trip to the two quality edifices on back-to-back days. A ‘spur-of-the-moment’ Saturday visit to Sojka to take in the Bucknell/American University men’s basketball game was followed the

Although having attended numerous events at Bucknell University’s Sojka Pavilion and the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State over the years a recent January weekend provided my first-ever trip to the two quality edifices on back-to-back days. A ‘spur-of-the-moment’ Saturday visit to Sojka to take in the Bucknell/American University men’s basketball game was followed the next day by the Penn State/Michigan State game at the BJC.

While both nearby universities are designated at the NCAA Division 1 level (Bucknell in the Patriot League and Penn State in the Big Ten), their home arenas reflect the differences in their scope of competition and expectations. Nevertheless, those weekend visits provided a stark reminder of how nice it is to have such facilities available to us just a short driving distance away.

Bucknell’s Sojka Pavilion is a 4,000-seat multi-purpose arena built at a construction cost of $31.5 million in 2003. It is named after Dr, Gary Allan Sojka, a former Bucknell president who retired in 2006. The home of Bucknell’s men’s and women’s basketball teams it features new locker rooms, hardwood playing surface, concessions stands, LED video boards, a team store, and Jumbotron. The success of the Bison men’s team has seen Sojka Pavilion host the Patriot League Tournament’s championship game in 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017 and 2018.

An hour to our west Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center is a 15,261-seat multi-purpose arena opened in 1995 at a construction cost of $52.7 million. Located across the street from Beaver Stadium, the BJC is the largest such venue between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Like Sojka, it was named after former PSU president Bryce Jordan, who was instrumental in acquiring the funding, needed to build it. The arena is home to the Penn State men’s and women’s basketball teams but has hosted numerous big-name concerts and events.

In today’s big-time college athletic scene facilities rank right up there with the head coaches when it comes to enticing high school athletes to ‘come play with me.’ Indeed both facilities present themselves favorably when it comes to winning the hearts of recruited hoopsters. But my weekend experience left me with different ‘feelings’ when it came to watching games at both venues.

Fully understanding the vast differences in the size of the arenas the Sojka experience is like an old comfortable sweater that you enjoy wearing time after time. It’s warm, cozy and inviting. There is not a bad seat in the house, you always run into folks you know, and the product on the court is top-notch and competitive. The sight of thousands of orange-clad spectators resembling a traffic cone convention gives testament to the fact that fashion statements are not always in vogue, but their enthusiasm is genuine.
Entering the BJC is a bit more corporate. The employees are friendly, but it seems more like a job than a happening campus experience. On the day I was there a ‘white out’ was in session with white t-shirts placed on most of the arena’s seat locations. It was an impressive blue & white look, quite different than Sojka’s blazing orange. With a capacity of 15,000+, most of the arena’s second deck of empty seats is hidden behind large blue curtains, no doubt to give the feel of a more intimate gathering.

Both events included ‘side trappings’ fitting to their locations. During timeouts and stoppages of play, the Sojka faithful are entertained by active cheerleaders and an orange-wigged student leader supervising t-shirt tosses and pizza giveaways. The student section usually features a boisterous bunch doing their very best to distract and harass opposing players.

The BJC has all of the above to a much bigger scale. Yes, they do give away t-shirts but also television sets and $250 cash prizes for making free-throws. On this Sunday occasion, the half-time show featured the Penn State Blue Band that marched onto the court engulfing the hardwood and filling the building with rousing toe-tapping sounds.

Size and conference affiliations noted, Bucknell basketball these days is more entertaining. It might have had something to do with the exciting 55-54 Bison win over American University as opposed to 6th ranked Michigan State’s romp over the Nittany Lions, leaving them winless in Big Ten play.

During coach Nathan Davis’s tenure, the Bison entered this season with a 68-33 mark during the past four seasons. Over the years they have won 17 regular season league titles and appeared in eight NCAA Tournaments. Most notable are their two wins over #3 ranked Kansas in 2005 followed by a win over #9 Arkansas in 2006.

Entering this season Nittany Lion head man Pat Chambers had compiled a 113-122 mark since arriving in Happy Valley in 2011. In their long history, PSU has made 9 NCAA Tournament appearances. They have captured two National Invitation Tournament championships, winning the NIT last year and in 2009.

The two schools have met a few times during the regular season with PSU holding the upper hand. The Nittany Lions had their own Sojka experience when they visited Lewisburg a few years ago.

So if you enjoy college basketball, or just want to take in a game at the two arenas, have at it and enjoy the experiences. Just make sure you wear the appropriate attire. That Sojka orange would certainly clash at the BJC.

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