The Pit (arena)
The Pit as seen in 2011
|Former names||University Arena (1966–2009)|
|Location||Avenida Cesar Chavez & University Blvd SE,
Albuquerque, New Mexico
|Owner||University of New Mexico|
|Operator||University of New Mexico,
Associated Students of UNM
14,586 (2009 Renovations)
Concerts: up to 13,480 (2009-present)
|Broke ground||December 1965|
|Opened||December 1, 1966|
|Construction cost||$1.4 million
($10.2 million in 2014 dollars)
$60 million (renovations)
|Architect||(original) Joe Boehning
(2009 renovation) Molzen Corbin, Architect of Record
Sink Combs Dethlefs, Arena Design Consultant
|New Mexico Lobos (1966–present),
New Mexico Activities Association State Basketball Tournaments (1990–present),
1983 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship
The Pit, formally named WisePies Arena aka The Pit, is an arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico serving primarily as the home venue of the University of New Mexico Lobo basketball teams. The facility opened in 1966 as University Arena but soon gained the nickname "The Pit" due to its innovative subterranean design, with the playing floor 37 feet below street level. In 2009, the nickname was adopted as the official name. The arena is located on the UNM South Campus and has a seating capacity of 15,411 for basketball and up to 13,480 for concerts, with forty luxury suites and 365 club seats.
The Pit has been widely recognized as one of the top college basketball venues in the nation, and as one of the loudest. The New Mexico Lobos have enjoyed tremendous success at The Pit, winning over eighty percent of their games there, while attendance for their games has consistently been among the best in college basketball. Renovations completed in 2010 added space to the facility, as well as state-of-the-art amenities for fans, coaches, and players.
The Pit has frequently hosted NCAA basketball tournament games, including the memorable 1983 Final Four.
Before construction of The Pit, Lobo basketball teams played at Johnson Gymnasium, a 7,800-seat multi-purpose gym on the University of New Mexico main campus. Lobo basketball was unsuccessful at the time that Johnson Gym opened, and it was rarely more than half-full for games. In 1962, UNM hired Bob King as head basketball coach, and he immediately transformed the Lobos into a winning program, reaching the finals of the National Invitation Tournament in his second season. Attendance at Lobo home games doubled, tickets were soon selling out, and plans for a larger arena began to take shape.
University administrators wanted a much larger facility while providing fans an unobstructed view from any seat. A suitably large building would normally require support columns, however, leading chief architect Joe Boehning to incorporate a roof designed by the Behlen company, a "stress skin system" made of light gauge metal supported by a series of trusses. The 338-by-300-foot (103 m × 91 m) roof was constructed first, just above street level, and the ground beneath was then excavated to form the bowl of the arena. The playing surface lies 37 feet (11 m) below grade, giving rise to the now-famous name. There are no supporting pillars in the seating area of the arena, so there are no obstructed views. Its compact area, steep grade, and the proximity of the seats to the floor contribute to its legendary noise level. The subterranean design won international recognition for Boehning. The arena originally had a seating capacity of 14,831 and cost a mere $1.4 million to build, about a fifth the cost of comparable facilities built at the time. The design allowed the foundation to rest directly on earth, eliminating the need for a steel structure to support the concrete, resulting in tremendous cost savings.
The Pit opened on December 1, 1966, with New Mexico defeating Abilene Christian College, 62–53. The Lobos have enjoyed extraordinary success playing at The Pit, winning over eighty percent of their games there and mounting home winning streaks of over twenty games four times, with the longest streak of 41 straight wins in 1996-98. The Lobos have made 14 NCAA tournament appearances and 17 NIT appearances since the opening of the arena. The Pit has hosted NCAA tournament regionals numerous times and hosted the 1983 Final Four championship. It also serves as the primary venue for New Mexico state high school basketball championship tournaments.
In 1992, the University of New Mexico recognized the coach who made construction of The Pit possible, naming the basketball court in his honor: Bob King Court was dedicated at formal ceremonies on December 1, 1992, the 26th anniversary of the opening of The Pit, a tribute to the contributions Coach King made to Lobo basketball.
Atmosphere and reputation
Attendance at Lobo games has consistently been among the national leaders in college basketball since The Pit opened, and it has a reputation as one of the loudest arenas in the country, creating a hostile playing environment for visitors. The Lobos have averaged over 15,400 fans per game at The Pit since 1966. They finished in the top five nationally in attendance sixteen times in their first twenty years at The Pit, finishing second five times, and they were in the top ten all but one season through 2002. Attendance has averaged an astonishing 95 percent of seating capacity, partially due to standing room only tickets pushing attendance beyond stated capacity at times. The top average attendance for a season was 17,625 in 1997-98, and the largest crowd to attend a single game was 19,452 on Jan. 17, 1976, against UNLV. Recent renovations have decreased the seating capacity of The Pit, but the Lobos have continued to rank in the top 25 every season.
The Pit is known as one of the loudest venues in college basketball. During the 1998-99 season, the St. Petersburg Times conducted a study of decibel levels at collegiate basketball arenas. The Lobo game in The Pit against Arizona registered the loudest at 118 decibels, comparable to a turbo-fan aircraft at takeoff power. Noise levels up to 125 decibels have been measured, close to the pain threshold for the human ear. Basketball writer John Feinstein once likened the experience of a visiting team in The Pit to "watching Roman gladiators emerging into a wall of sound."
Further contributing to the intimidating environment for visitors is the mile high elevation of The Pit, where the court is around 5,312 feet (1,620 m) above sea level. This is impressed upon visiting teams with posters in the locker room providing information on the warning signs of altitude sickness and urging victims to seek immediate medical attention. In addition, the tunnel leading from the locker rooms down to the playing floor has a message painted on the wall stating, "Welcome to the legendary Pit, a mile high and louder than..."
The Pit has garnered high praise from sports publications, announcers, and opposing coaches. In 1999, Sports Illustrated listed The Pit as 13th in its feature on the Top Twenty Sporting Venues of the 20th Century, ahead of such locations as Daytona Speedway, Notre Dame Stadium, and the Rose Bowl. Sports writers from USA Today, Fox Sports, and Rivals.com have also recognized The Pit among top venues in college basketball. Jim Boeheim has stated that the game he coached in The Pit was one of the most exciting of his career, and Lute Olson has observed that The Pit crowd can dictate the tempo and momentum of a game. Rick Majerus, whose 5-11 record against the Lobos at The Pit ties him with Don Haskins for most wins by a visiting coach, praised the intensity and dedication of Lobo fans and their knowledge of the game, and Steve Fisher has echoed those sentiments.
The Pit has undergone two major renovations. In 1975 the arena was expanded at a cost of $2.2 million. A cantilevered deck was extended above the original seating for meeting space, offices, and a mezzanine level with 2,300 additional seats. The concourse was enlarged to allow concession space to be quadrupled, along with dedicated standing-room only space, increasing seating capacity to 18,018.
The second renovation, begun in 2009, was completed in time for the 2010–11 basketball season, costing $60 million and bringing the facilities up to state-of-the-art standards. The renovation added 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2) of new space, with new amenities such as forty luxury suites and 365 club seats, digital signage and video boards, expanded concourses, additional restrooms and concession stands, a new ticket office and Lobo store, interactive kiosks, and a UNM Lettermen's Lounge. New locker rooms for both men's and women's squads were added, as well as an upgraded strength and conditioning center and training facilities. Project architect John Pate of Molzen-Corbin in Albuquerque recognized the need to tread gently in designing changes to preserve the historic character of the building. "Players like the noise," he noted. "They want to keep it loud in there." The upgrade reduced seating capacity to 15,411, trading some seating for greater comfort and amenities.
The building facade was transformed from simple red brick to a high-rise look with a 56-foot-tall glass tower, lit from within and supported by a steel superstructure. The shape of the roof was curved into a half-figure-8 to be more visually interesting than its former box-like appearance. Extensive glasswork encases the street level, adding light and providing views of the Sandia Mountains to the east and picturesque Southwest sunsets to the west. "We're building a little jewel box around the building," said Pate. "We want the Pit to be seen as an urban destination ... an attractive, up-to-date building with better access for everyone." The building also achieves high environmental standards, with water efficiencies and heating and cooling processes designed to minimize energy loss, while 95 percent of all waste materials from the renovation were recycled.
In 2006, prior to the renovation, UNM dedicated the Rudy Davalos Basketball Center, named after the then-departing athletics director, located adjacent to the south end of The Pit. The 26,000-square-foot facility includes practice courts, offices for coaches, a video control room and theater, and a multi-purpose room for press conferences and special events. The recent renovations integrated the Davalos Center with The Pit, allowing players to move seamlessly between the two facilities for practice, games, and training.
On December 1, 2014, the University of New Mexico announced that naming rights to the arena had been purchased by local Albuquerque restaurant, WisePies Pizza & Salad, for five million dollars over 10 years. The formal name of the building during the duration of the agreement shall be "WisePies Arena (aka The Pit)."
The Lobos at The Pit
|Lobo Records at The Pit||(entering the 2013–14 season)|
|The First Game||
December 1, 1966
|All-Time W-L Record||
|Longest winning streak||
41 (2/10/96 – 2/19/98)
|Best Winning Percentage, Season||
|Most Wins, Season||
19 (4 times, last 1998-99 (19-1))
|Attendance average, per game||
The Lady Lobos
The New Mexico women's basketball team also enjoys the home court advantage of The Pit. The Lady Lobos reached national prominence under former head coach Don Flanagan (1995-2011), who compiled an overall record of 340-168 (.669), including 228-59 (.794) at The Pit, making him the winningest coach in New Mexico basketball history. Flanagan's teams won six Mountain West Conference titles and made eight appearances in the NCAA Women's basketball tournament, reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2003. The Pit hosted Lady Lobo games in the NCAA tournament in 2003, 2004, and 2008, with the team posting a 2-3 record. The Lady Lobos under Flanagan also made five appearances in the post-season Women's National Invitation Tournament, including a 7-3 record in games at The Pit in 1999-2001 and 2010. In 2001 they reached the WNIT championship game, played at The Pit, losing to Ohio State.
The Lady Lobos have been in the top 10 nationally in average attendance since 1998-99. They have sold out The Pit nine times in that period, filling the arena five times to its former regular season capacity of 18,018. Four times they sold out NCAA tournament games with capacity over 16,000. In 2002-03, UNM ranked fourth nationally, averaging 11,896 per game, their best season total, and they averaged over 8,000 fans per game during Flanagan's tenure.
The Pit hosted the 1983 NCAA Final Four, the scene of a memorable championship game upset by North Carolina State over heavily favored Houston. The video clip of NC State coach Jim Valvano running around the court at the end of the game documents one of the most famous moments in NCAA basketball history and is now a staple of Final Four television coverage. This was also the last Final Four event held on a college campus, and one of the last not held in an indoor stadium.
The Pit has frequently been a venue for NCAA Men's basketball tournaments, hosting games in 1968, 1978, 1985, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2005, and 2012. It also hosted the Western Athletic Conference men's tournaments in 1987, 1995, and 1996. The Pit has hosted NCAA Women's tournament games in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, and 2011.
Men's NCAA tournament games
|1968 West Regional||UCLA 58 New Mexico State 49
Santa Clara 86 New Mexico 58
New Mexico State 62 New Mexico 58
UCLA 87 Santa Clara 66
|1978 West Regional||Sweet 16th
Arkansas 74 UCLA 70
Cal State Fullerton 75 San Francisco 72
Arkansas 61 Cal State Fullerton 58
|1983 Final Four||Final Four
North Carolina State 67 Georgia 60
Houston 94 Louisville 81
North Carolina State 54 Houston 52
|1985 West First & Second Rounds||First Round
Texas-El Paso 79 Tulsa 75
North Carolina State 65 Nevada 56
Alabama 50 Arizona 41
Virginia Commonwealth 81 Marshall 65
Alabama 63 Virginia Commonwealth 59
North Carolina 86 Texas-El Paso 73
|1992 West Regional||Sweet sixteen
Indiana 85 Florida State 74
UCLA 85 New Mexico State 78
Indiana 106 UCLA 79
|1996 West First & Second Rounds||First Round
Syracuse 88 Montana State 55
Drexel 75 Memphis 63
Purdue 73 Western Carolina 71
Georgia 81 Clemson 74
Georgia 76 Purdue 69
Syracuse 69 Drexel 58
|2000 West Regional||Sweet 16
Wisconsin 61 LSU 48
Purdue 75 Gonzaga 66
Wisconsin 64 Purdue 60
|2002 First and Second Rounds||First Round
Missouri 93 Miami(FL) 80
Ohio State 69 Davidson 64
Wyoming 73 Gonzaga 66
Arizona 86 UC Santa Barbara 81
Missouri 83 Ohio State 67
Arizona 68 Wyoming 60
|2005 Albuquerque Regional||Sweet 16
Louisville 93 Washington 79
West Virginia 65 Texas Tech 60
Louisville 93 West Virginia 85
|2012 2nd and 3rd round||Second Rounds
Vanderbilt 79 Harvard 70
Wisconsin 73 Montana 49
UNLV 64 Colorado 68
Baylor 68 South Dakota State 60
The 2009 renovations increased the viability of the Pit as a multipurpose venue. In recent years it has been the Albuquerque home of World Wrestling Entertainment and is the site of the Professional Bull Riders Ty Murray Invitational, part of the Built Ford Tough Series. Both events previously were held at Tingley Coliseum.
The Pit has been New Mexico's largest arena since it opened, the largest indoor venue between San Antonio and Phoenix, and also hosts major concert tours. Other entertainers who have appeared at the Pit include Led Zeppelin, Queen (with Paul Rodgers), Foreigner, Billy Graham, Taylor Swift, Bob Seger, Brad Paisley, Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, The Dave Matthews Band, George Strait, Billy Joel, and Elton John.
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- New Mexico Basketball 2012-13 Media Guide, pp.111, 114.
- Terry Gugliotta, University Arena, University Archives, Center for Southwest Research, archive date Jan. 19, 2008.
- Rick Wright, The Pit: Basketball Arena Recognized Far and Wide, Albuquerque Journal, Sept. 19, 1999.
- The cost of $116 per seat made it one of the least expensive arenas ever built. Van Dorn Hooker, University of New Mexico architect, from "Only in New Mexico," excerpted at the official University of New Mexico web site.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p.4.
- UNM Mourns Passing of Bob King; Services Next Wednesday at The Pit, New Mexico Official Athletic Site, Dec. 10, 2004.
- The Pit, New Mexico Official Athletic Site.
- The Pit Official Site, Venue History.
- Doug Ward, Dig this: The Pit's on a high, ESPN Sports Travel, Jan. 12, 2011.
- Loudest Arena in the Country, New Mexico Lobo Media Guide 2008-09, p.1.
- Noise Sources and Their Effects, University of Purdue
- SI's Top 20 Venues of the 20th Century, Sports Illustrated, June 7, 1999.
- John Feinstein, 10 great places to get pumped for NCAA action, USA Today, Jan. 17, 2008.
- Andy Katz, Bucket List: The Pit, ESPN.com, Aug. 16, 2013
- Mark Smith, New Pit Adds Amenities While Retaining Heart and Soul, Albuquerque Journal, Oct. 31, 2010.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p.2.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p.5.
- Mark Smith, Majerus To Have Pit Jumping, Albuquerque Journal, Dec. 31, 2011.
- Majerus returns to the Pit in St. Louis Blue, KRQE-TV, Dec. 30, 2011.
- New Mexico shows off $60M upgrade to The Pit, CBSSports.com, Oct. 14, 2010.
- Neal Singer, Pride and the Pit, Southwest Contractor (August 2009).
- Geoff Grammer, Lobo Tickets Going Quickly, Albuquerque Journal, Feb 27, 2013; Geoff Grammer, Lobo basketball: Season ticket sales on pace to exceed last year, Albuquerque Journal, Oct. 3, 2013
- Richard Stevens, The Pit Renovations Will Polish the Lobos' Crown Jewel, New Mexico Official Athletics Site, Nov. 7, 2008.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p.9.
- WisePies Arena, aka The Pit, New Mexico Athletics, December 1, 2014.
- Grammer, Geoff (1 December 2014). "Pit cashes in on pizza deal". Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p.147
- New Mexico Women's Basketball, Program History & Records, pp.150-53, New Mexico Official Athletic Site.
- Don Flanagan, New Mexico Official Athletic Site
- New Mexico Women's Basketball, Program History & Records, p.113, New Mexico Official Athletic Site.
- Ken Sickenger, End of an Era: UNM's Flanagan resigns, Albuquerque Journal, Apr 5, 2011.
- Ken Sickenger, Fans Loyal to UNM Women, Albuquerque Journal, Jan 31, 2012.
- George Willis, Valvano changed world at Pit in '83, New York Post, Mar. 18, 2012.
- NCAA Video, 1983: NC State's last second lay-in, NCAA.com.
- Media Guide 2012-13, p.137.
- Led Zeppelin Concert Timeline, May 23, 1973, ledzeppelin.com