16 Sweet College Towns: Where to Go When You’re Ready to Get Your Game OnBy Lucas Aykroyd
From Cinderella teams to heart-stopping buzzer beaters, nothing tops the basketball excitement of March Madness for NCAA fans. While picking the right bracket to win your office pool is awesome, visiting any of these college sports meccas is a win — whether you’re into watching stars shoot hoops, score goals or run touchdowns.
Home to the “First Four” opening round games since 2001, Dayton’s 13,435-capacity UD Arena sells out each NCAA season. When they’re not on the court, aeronautics buffs can visit the National Museum of the United States Air Force and the original 1905 Wright Flyer III — both are slam-dunk must-sees.
The University of Michigan has spawned talents from NBA forward Rudy Tomjanovich to NFL quarterback Tom Brady. Beyond Detroit’s new Little Caesars Arena, music aficionados can’t miss Hitsville U.S.A., the original Motown headquarters.
Nashville has one of college sports’ quirkiest traditions: When the Belmont Bruins women’s volleyball team plays, male Pembroke Hall freshmen don wacky costumes as their cheering section. At the Johnny Cash Museum, steps from Bridgestone Arena, view the country music icon’s awards and instruments.
Wichita State’s ever-competitive basketball team generated national excitement when it moved up to the American Athletic Conference back in 2017, but its diehard fanbase has always supported the team. Families love the Sedgwick County Zoo, featuring some 2,500 animals.
College students make up a whopping 25 percent of Boston’s population, and schools like Harvard and Northeastern excel in both academics and athletics. Explore the city’s vibrant craft beer scene with City Brew Tours Boston or the recently expanded Dutch art collection at the Museum of Fine Arts.
Fans show their passion on the University of Pittsburgh campus by rubbing the Millennium Panther statue’s nose for good luck. Between games, tour the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum or grab a pastrami sandwich at Primanti Brothers.
San Diego, California
If you dig college mascots, UC San Diego’s King Triton is a captivating, trident-toting rascal. Between NCAA games at nearby San Diego State University, check out Balboa Park‘s 17 museums or the San Diego Zoo‘s Africa Rocks exhibit.
Harmonious hockey players? Yep! The University of Nebraska Omaha hockey team sings its fight song in the Baxter Arena lobby after victories. Next to CenturyLink Center, enjoy a brisk stroll by the Missouri River at Lewis and Clark Landing.
In college sports, this big-time football town is noted for the Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. When you’re not cheering on your team, relax at the lush Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.
This is a hardcore pigskin paradise, with Boise State Broncos gear spotted everywhere and distinctive blue turf at Albertsons Stadium. Young crowds pack the Idaho capital’s bars, enjoying Spacebar Arcade‘s 1980s video games and Sockeye Brewing‘s Dagger Falls IPA and Power House Porter.
Producing basketball superstars from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Russell Westbrook, the UCLA Bruins have won more NCAA titles (11) than any other team. The Grammy Museum, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum and the Team LA sports merchandise store are all near Staples Center and worth a visit.
Want to get your buzz on? Students auditioning to portray Buzz, Georgia Tech’s yellow jacket mascot, must do “suicide flips,” and they get judged by the previous Buzz. Take a break from the university in downtown Atlanta and tour the $97 million World of Coca-Cola museum or CNN’s world headquarters.
Charlotte, North Carolina
All-time NBA great Michael Jordan owns the Charlotte Hornets, and Jordan launched his legend when he won the 1982 NCAA championship with North Carolina. After catching the action at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center, celebrate stock-car racing heroes at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
San Antonio, Texas
Gridiron fever has soared since the University of Texas at San Antonio launched its football team in 2011. NCAA fans can also visit everything from the Witte Museum‘s dinosaur exhibits to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
An Ohio State Buckeyes football tradition sees a sousaphone player dramatically “dotting the i” during the “Script Ohio” marching band routine. Host of the 2018 NCAA women’s basketball finals, Columbus offers diversions like the family-friendly COSI Columbus science center and the Arena District‘s bustling restaurants and bars.
Home to the NCAA Hall of Champions, Indianapolis welcomes the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience. At this 7.5-acre attraction at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, families can try 14 different outdoor sports experiences and learn about icons from Wayne Gretzky to Larry Bird.