Guest writer Spencer Morrell is the author of this article, and managing editor Nathanael Rutherford also contributed.
Neyland Stadium is a well-known college football venue throughout the nation, a venue revered by the Tennessee faithful and feared by opposing teams throughout the conference and the country. This hallowed home of Volunteer football commands respect from all who enter its gates. However, it’s time for its neighbor on the banks of the Tennessee River to be shown some respect as well.
Thompson-Boling Arena, the home of Tennessee’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, has become one of the most electric basketball sites not only in the SEC, but also in the entire nation. The orange-clad crowds that fill the arena are almost always big and boisterous, and the numbers back that up.
Tennessee had the most combined fans in the country when it came to attendance for both men’s and women’s basketball games for the 2019-2020 basketball season. An eye-popping 461,146 Vol and Lady Vol fans came to see Rick Barnes’ and Kellie Harper’s basketball squads this season.
No other school in the country topped those numbers, and the men’s program in particular was one of the best in the nation. The men’s team had an average attendance of 18,990 fans per game, the fourth-best in the country.
In the 2018-2019 season, the men’s basketball team went undefeated at home and played in front of many capacity crowds. During the 2019-2020 season, the crowds continued to be large and loud despite Tennessee’s drop-off in play. For the Lady Vols, their 8,645 average attendance ranked sixth in women’s basketball.
On four occasions, over 20,000 fans came to cheer on the Vols in their home arena in men’s hoops, including two sold out games against Wisconsin (Dec. 28) and Memphis (Dec. 14). The average attendance numbers are almost exactly in line with last year’s numbers, as UT averaged 19,034 fans a game in TBA in the 2018-19 season.
The Lady Vols had three games top the 10,000 attendance mark this season after having no such games in the 2018-19 campaign. The highest-attended game at TBA for the Lady Vols came against Texas A&M, which saw 12,738 fans show up to see first-year head coach Kellie Harper’s squad. The Lady Vols’ average attendance of 8,645 fans per home game was an increase of over 600 fans per game from last season (8,028).
Thompson-Boling is as hostile as an arena can be for opposing players and coaches, and the Volunteers have a true homecourt advantage on their hands. And this isn’t just one man’s opinion.
During SEC Media Day back in October, the 28 players in attendance were asked to vote on which basketball arena in the conference was the most challenging place to play in. This is a conference that includes the likes of the O’Connell Center at Florida and, of course, the storied Rupp Arena at Kentucky. However, neither of these schools were at the top of the poll. Not even the ever-electric Bud Walton Arena at Arkansas or Auburn Arena would top the list.
Instead, Thompson-Boling Arena came in first place in the poll of SEC players.
One of the Kentucky players that voted noted that his teammates “couldn’t hear each other” and that they couldn’t hear their coach because of the deafening crowd noise in the arena during last year’s Tennessee-Kentucky game in Knoxville.
Thompson-Boling Arena has earned the respect of other players in the SEC, and it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice. Thompson-Boling is one of the largest arenas in college basketball and consistently ranks in the top ten in attendance numbers for its teams. Tennessee fans consistently show up and show out for their men’s and women’s basketball teams. Even on March 7th, late in a season that had not gone the way many Vol fans had hoped it would, over 20,000 fans showed up to watch the Vols take on Auburn in the regular season finale. The Vols lost that day, but the fans gave their all for almost the entire game even as the Vols trailed the Tigers the whole second half.
Tennessee has an elite basketball fanbase that has done more than enough to show that it can go toe to toe with any “blue blood” fanbase in the country. An easy win against the Vols on their home floor has become a thing of the past, and any win in Knoxville has become somewhat of a rarity. Just ask Kentucky and Florida, who have combined to win only one game against the Vols in Knoxville since 2015.
The lofty numbers, both in wins and decibel levels, speak for themselves. Thompson-Boling Arena has become one of the top places to play college basketball in the nation.