Ranking Saluki Athletics venues

By Thomas Donley, @TDonleyDE

Here are the definitive ranking of the athletics venues on the campus of Southern Illinois University. These rankings are based on criteria ranging from visual appeal, seat comfort, the chances of catching a free T-shirt and the overall atmosphere of events held at each facility.
1. SIU Arena
No other athletic venue on campus can match the atmosphere of a men’s basketball game at SIU Arena. When the home team is playing well, there is nothing like coming together with 5,000 fellow Salukis to cheer on the Dawgs. The smell of roasting nuts on the concourse is one of the most inviting, sensual pleasures in Carbondale, adding to the warmth inside in the middle of winter.
2. Davies Gym
One of the few facilities that is not newly built or had significant upgrades in the past 15 years, Davies Gym is still one of the most exciting places on campus to attend a home game. Hundreds of fans pack the 91-year-old venue to back Saluki volleyball with cheers echoing throughout the small gym. SIU volleyball is 24-10 at Davies in the past three years with the raucous “Davies Crazies” in attendance. Davies Gym is also home to the best fan participation game at Saluki Athletics venues. Fans can win a T-shirt by hitting one of several shirts placed on the floor with a serve from the opposite side.
3. Richard “Itchy” Jones Stadium
Visiting radio crews consistently comment on the beauty of the Saluki baseball facility. The vibrant colors of the AstroTurf field, the evergreens located at the batter’s eye backdrop in center field and the virtue of watching baseball can make attendees forget about the leafless trees, brown grass and occasional snow that populate the rest of the area on a late winter or early spring game day. The Hill along the right-field line provides fans the opportunity to park their vehicles, grill out and enjoy a baseball game alongside a four-legged friend while enjoying an adult beverage. 
4. Charlotte West Stadium
The home of Saluki softball since 2003, Charlotte West Stadium allows fans to get closer to the action than any other facility. SIU entered the 2016 season with a .745 winning percentage at the $1.7 million stadium. Fans at Charlotte West have the best chance of catching a T-shirt, as shirts are thrown after every Saluki strikeout.
5. Saluki Stadium
Saluki football moved into its current home in 2010, making Saluki Stadium the newest stadium in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Fans only filled the stadium to about half its 15,000-person capacity in 2015, as SIU finished eighth in the 10-team MVFC in attendance at 7,750 per game. Many of those fans left at halftime, further reducing the quality of the fan atmosphere.
6. Indoor track
If you’re going to watch a track meet in person in February, you might as well go to one inside. The indoor track at the SIU Recreation Center has a new surface this year that is more true to the university’s color scheme. 
7. Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex
A single set of bleachers sits on the west side of SIU’s four-year-old outdoor track facility. It’s a good place to rest your legs, but if you want to watch field events, you will more than likely have to find a place to stand closer to the action.
8. University Courts
You can sit on the bleachers just north of Saluki Stadium and watch some SIU tennis. The easiest matches to watch from the limited seating area are the ones on courts two and three. Any other match nearly requires binoculars to read the scorecards at each court. There is no scoreboard, so to have much of an idea of what is going on, you’ll need to keep your head on a swivel.
9. Dr. Edward J. Shea Natatorium
The humidity in the SIU pool makes it hard to stand to watch a swim meet for very long. If you do stick around, it’s hard to discern what’s going on if you’re not paying very close attention.
Best place to catch a T-shirt: Charlotte West Stadium
Best fan participation: Davies Gym
Most comfortable seating: SIU Arena
Best playlist: Itchy Jones Stadium
Best seats on campus: 
1. Itchy Jones Stadium, center section
The best way to take in any baseball game is to sit behind the plate, where you can see the entire field and get a feel for the speed and movement on every pitch. The Itch is no different. The section directly in front of the press box is the seat of choice for major league scouts. As long as you sit a few rows up, you can see a radar gun easily.
2. SIU Arena, student section
A valid student ID gets you your choice of seat behind either rim for a Saluki basketball game. The higher up you go, the more of the court you can see to watch the game develop, and the lower you go, the closer to the action you are. Either way, it’s hard to go wrong.
3. Davies Gym, center section
The best view of a volleyball game is from the center, so you can spend the match with your head turned each way an equal amount of time to prevent neck stiffness. There’s no better place to join the loudest fans on campus.
Worst seat: Press row, Davies Gym
While Davies is great for fans, it’s one of the worst venues for media members. Press row consists of a narrow table affixed to the top row of the bleachers that forces people with the misfortune of sitting in the middle to climb over other people or crawl under the wobbly table. Also, anyone taller than 6 feet will have a hard time seeing the action when the Davies Crazies stand for a Saluki match point, as the banners hanging on the wall above impede taller people’s vision.
Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307