Fairfield hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997 and has never finished a season in the top 100 of KenPom. Heck, Fairfield hasn’t even had an above .500 record in MAAC play since 2017.
Still, there’s a ton of optimism around this program, and I’ll show you the reason, or rather, the $51 million reasons, why the Stags program is on the rise.
Like many in the northeast, the Stags moved their home games (or at least many of them), out of their on-campus venue, and into an arena seen as a more glamorous site. For about two decades, Fairfield played most of their home games in Bridgeport, at Webster Bank (now Total Mortgage) Arena. However, if you know anything about Bridgeport, you know that it’s anything but glamorous. The Stags maintained good attendance numbers during Ed Cooley’s tenure, but never really filled up the building. When the standard of the team dipped, the attendance did as well, and students were no longer willing to make the journey for the games.
Through generous donations, the Stags constructed a state-of-the-art facility on campus, and after years of waiting, the $51 million, 3,500-seat, on-campus Leo D. Mahoney Arena played host to its first men’s basketball game last Saturday night.
Here’s what you need to know:
The first thing that jumps out when you look at the arena is the center-hung jumbotron, with four screens, as well as a cylindrical ticker-like screen under it. It’s also easy to notice the screen that wraps around the entirety of the first deck, displaying scores and animations. Both of these types of screens are rare at this level. It’s the features like these, as well as the second level of seats, the modern concession stands, the broadcast control room, the entrance atrium, and the team shop, among many other things, that make Mahoney Arena live up to the title of an arena, rather than just a gym where college basketball is played.
Speaking of those concession stands, here’s what you can expect to find there…
- For $3.99, you can get yourself a pretty standard boiled hot dog. While it’s not a hot dog that you’ll go home raving about, it’s certainly in the upper tier of the dogs that I’ve had at mid-major basketball arenas, at a price point that’s pretty similar to most hot dogs you’ll find at college basketball games.
- For $4.99, you can get what can be described as a classic cafeteria cheeseburger. It’s not the most attractive burger, however, it has more flavor than meets the eye. It’s not overwhelming, and once again, not a food you’d go home raving about, but it’s a solid option for anybody that wants to grab a cheeseburger. It must be noted that for the lettuce and tomato enthusiasts, you’ll be disappointed. These concession stands don’t have them.
- For $3.99, you can get a pretzel that’s better than meets the eye. While it has a somewhat deformed shape, it’s a doughy bite, with a solid salt distribution. I’d say it’s definitely a better pretzel than most venues at this level. The issue comes with the cheese, which is an additional $0.75, and is probably not worth paying for, given that its’ flavor is not very good. Regardless of the cheese, it’s a good pretzel.
- The popcorn comes in a massive serving size, and it comes very dry. If you want to get popcorn, get it at the beginning of the game, and you can share it with a friend or family member. I would recommend the pretzel over the popcorn, but it’s not a knock on the popcorn to say that.
- You can also get a nice chipwich, which is absolutely recommended, because no matter where you are, it’s impossible to resist one of those.
- If you’re looking to save some money, the water fountains are cold and luscious. Legitimately some of the best water fountains I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking from.
As for the Stags team itself, they’ve played their home games so far like a team worthy of the venue. With a capacity crowd on Dec. 3, the Stags took down Saint Peter’s, 67-55, with a strong effort from Bowling Green transfer Caleb Fields. After the game, the Stags students, who were lined up from both sides of the arena, celebrated by storming the court after bringing the energy all night.
Fields has brought a needed element to this Fairfield team: a strong on-ball guard that can shoulder a scoring load. His athleticism and ability to get to the basket has saved the Stags offense many times this year.
After an 0-4 start to the season, including losses to Wagner and New Hampshire, the Stags went 2-1 in Savannah for their MTE with a win over Towson. They finished their month on the road with a loss to Manhattan, falling to 2-6 in their first portion of the season. Head coach Jay Young lamented the losses.
“We had some very good moments on the road, but we’d been inconsistent,” he said. “I thought we’d get here in a different spot, but it is what it is, and the most important thing is what we do moving forward.”
Since that start, the Stags have won their first two home games on their eight-game homestand as they open up the new place. A last-second game-winner by Fields vaulted the Stags to 9-0 all-time against city rival Sacred Heart last Wednesday.
Young said that the team was glad to have a home on campus, adding that they’d been nomads ever since he’d been in the job, and the long month on the road to open the season was worthy of a joke by the coach.
“The only benefit of the month was my Mariott Bonvoy account, I’ll take a nice vacation in the summer,” Young said.
On a night that was all about the university, Fields was appreciative of the fanbase, calling it “a blessing to have the support we have.”
The biggest home test for Fairfield is Monday night, as they take on a Yale team that’s in the KenPom top 100, with a chance to really make a statement, and show that they’ve arrived. The benefits of a venue like this at this level are remarkable, and your college basketball bucket list isn’t complete until you’ve seen the Stags Mahoney Arena