New Mexico State University is home to one of the finest arenas in all of the southwest in the Pan American Center. The Pan Am has been home to the men’s and women’s basketball teams and the NMSU volleyball team for three decades or more and it has hosted thousands of other events.
Recently, the Pan American Center hosted the 2007 WAC Basketball Championships and the 2007 WAC Volleyball Championships. The 2007 conference basketball tournament was one of the most successful in WAC history, as more than 49,000 fans attended; making it the highest attended WAC Tournament since 1998 in Las Vegas. The arena welcomes back the basketball tournament this season, which runs March 11-16, 2008.
The arena, which currently has a seating capacity of 12,482, has hosted the NCAA Men’s Basketball Midwest Regional, several NCAA first round games, state high school basketball tournaments and hundreds of concerts featuring some of the top entertainers in America including George Straight, Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Pearl Jam and Notorious B.I.G.
The complex first opened its doors on Nov. 30, 1968 for the New Mexico State men’s basketball team. When the facility was constructed nearly four decades ago, the price tag on the facility was a monstrous $3.5 million and was part of a university wide $22 million construction program that included the Corbett Center and two observatories on campus.
The Pan American Center, which was designed by W.C. Kruger and Associates of Santa Fe and is presently valued at considerably more than the construction price back in 1968, is one of the finest sports facilities in the southwest and one of the largest in the Rocky Mountain region.
Paul Rader, a former NMSU vice president, tabbed it as the Pan American Center because of its position along Interstate 25, also known as the Pan American Highway and NMSU’s continuing programs with communities throughout the western hemisphere.
On Oct. 10, 2005, a $23.5 million renovation and expansion project on the complex began. A new annex building was added to the south end of the arena that features offices, practice facilities and locker rooms, which opened in November 2006 and the final renovation project was completed before the 2007 WAC Basketball Championships.
The upgrades to the arena greatly improved access and amenities throughout the building and created a more modern and competitive athletic team facility.
Other key features added in the renovations were a new concourse below the upper level seating, six new concessions stands, new rest room facilities (approximately double the number of men’s facilities and quadruple the number of women’s facilities), two elevators providing access from the concourse in the south lobby to the court level and ADA compliant seating on the concourse and court levels.
A brand new center-hung jumbo-tron was also added in the Pan American Center, which with the help of AggieVision, NMSU’s in house television production team, fans can see the game live, watch replays to go along with other features on the state-of-the-art jumbo-tron.
Entering this season, the men’s and women’s basketball programs and the volleyball team has had tremendous success in its home arena, where the Aggie fans have welcomed opponents to Las Cruces with a fierceness and a tenacity, both on the court and in the stands, the like of which are hard to find elsewhere in college athletics.
In 1998-99 and in 1999-00, the Pan American Center was named the “Toughest Place to Play,” in the Big West Conference by Dick Vitale’s College Basketball Preview.
The men’s team is now in its 40th consecutive season in the complex and since the 1968-69 season, the Aggies have an astonishing record of 446-128 in the Pan American Center, a winning percentage of nearly 78 percent. In their 39 years of playing in the arena, the Aggies have posted winning season records in all but two year, including a streak of 19-straight winning seasons from 1985-86 to 2003-04.
The Aggie men’s team has had four undefeated seasons in the complex, including a then-school-best 16-0 mark during the 1989-90 campaign. Other undefeated seasons came in 1969-70 (15-0), 1970-71 (14-0) and 1979-80 (14-0). In last year’s 2006-07 season, the Aggies set a new record for home victories with 19 (19-1 overall).
NMSU’s women’s basketball team made the permanent move from the Activity Center over to the Pan Am at the start of the 1976-77 season thanks to head coach Karen Fey engineering the move. This season marks the 31st consecutive season for the women’s program in the arena and entering the year the Aggies have won 68.4 percent of their games in the friendly confines. On Dec. 18, 2007 the Aggies notches their 300th victory all-time in the Pan American Center with their 79-66 victory over Lamar.
The Aggies most dominant period in the complex came from 1984-96, when NMSU won 141 out of 170 games (.829) in those 12 seasons. New Mexico State has had two undefeated seasons in the Pan Am, including a school best 15-0 record in the 1988-89 season.
On Dec. 7, 1986, the Aggies embarked on a 1,160 day streak where they reeled off 38 consecutive victories at home. It all started with a 86-58 win over Arizona and it ended when the University of Utah upset NMSU, 54-51 on Feb. 11, 1989. The 1,160 days of home dominance was accentuated by the statistic that the women’s team won those 38 straight games by an average of 25.2 points.
The 2007 volleyball season was the 20th year for the Aggie volleyball team in the Pan American Center. It wasn’t until late in the 1987 season that the Aggies first played a volleyball match in the Pan Am. After a trial run resulted in crowds of 2,142 and 3,057 attending matches against I-25 rival New Mexico and BYU, the Aggies officially moved from their former home in the Student Activity Center.
NMSU is 157-89 (.638) all-time in the Pan American Center after going 14-2 this past 2007 season. Since 2002, NMSU has lost just five home matches. In 2003, the team had its most successful season in the arena, compiling a perfect 13-0 home record.
The largest crowd ever to attend an Aggie volleyball match was 7,115 on Oct. 1, 2005 against Hawai’i. There have been 12 matches where over 2,000 fans have attended and before this past season, the Aggies have an all-time record of 33-8 with a crowd of 1,000+.