From the Field to the Ferrell
A golden dome marks the far end of Baylor’s campus, a stage where beautiful games are played, champions are built and graduations commence. Built in 1988, the Ferrell Center has paved the way to a bright vision of 2024.
The banks of the Brazos River, home to almost all of Baylor’s athletic venues, will soon welcome the new Paul and Alejandra Foster Basketball Pavilion. The pavilion will be situated on Interstate 35 where, along with McLane Stadium and the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center, a clear message will be sent to passersby that Waco is the home of Baylor University.
An 1896 issue of Baylor Literary Magazine introduced readers to “basket ball,” a game invented five years earlier by James Naismith at the International Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Springfield, Massachusetts. As early as 1904, Baylor students played a version of intramural basketball against fellow students, local and regional teams.
One weekend in March 1906, a Baylor team played three games against a team from the University of Texas at Austin. It was the precursor to Baylor’s first official season of intercollegiate men’s basketball; head coach Luther Burleson led the Bears to a 5-6 record in the 1906-07 season, which culminated with consecutive wins over the Longhorns.
Although Naismith invented the game largely to condition young athletes indoors during Massachusetts’ winter months, competitive basketball games were widely played outdoors in the early 20th century, especially in Southern states. In fact, all games of the 1936 Berlin Olympics — basketball’s Olympic debut — were played on an outdoor clay court; the United States defeated Canada for the gold medal.
Until the early 1920s, most of Baylor’s home games were played outside on Carroll Field. Thereafter, home games were played in an open-air wooden structure for a short time before moving to Baylor’s first full-time basketball facility — Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium, which opened in 1938. Named after the mother of Texas oilman Marrs McLean, who donated the lead gift toward the building’s construction, the arena could seat 3,500 fans. Games were regularly sold out, especially in the late 1940s when the Bears reached the NCAA Tournament Final Four twice in a three-season span.
In 1953, the City of Waco opened the 10,000-seat Heart of Texas Coliseum, and the Bears left campus for home games. Baylor’s first home game at the H.O.T. Coliseum was Dec. 1, 1953, a 70-54 victory over North Texas State (now the University of North Texas). The Bears were 256-142 at the H.O.T. Coliseum over 35 seasons.
Baylor Basketball returned to campus in the fall of 1988 with the opening of the Ferrell Center. The first year was far from spectacular; the Bears lost to San Diego State in the venue’s first men’s basketball game and went 4-11 at the Ferrell Center amidst a 5-22 season.
However, the Ferrell Center has been a cozy den for Baylor’s men’s basketball program over the past two decades as the Bears have not suffered a sub-.500 record at home since the 2004-05 season. Baylor was 363-164 all-time at the Ferrell Center in men’s basketball entering this season, including a 207-50 record since the start of the 2006-07 season. Last season, the Bears produced the program’s first undefeated home season since 1947-48 en route to winning the national title.
Meanwhile, Baylor’s women’s basketball program has been more dominant at the Ferrell Center in the 21st century. Entering this season, Baylor was 418-98 all-time at the venue in women’s basketball, including a 342-23 record since the 2000-01 season. The Bears were undefeated at home in nine seasons during that time, including national title seasons of 2004-05 (14-0), 2011-12 (19-0) and 2018-19 (19-0). Baylor also enjoyed 69-game and 61-game home winning streaks in that span.
Baylor’s basketball programs will again change home venues for the 2024 Big 12 season. Foster Pavilion will be located along the Brazos River on the west side of I-35, adjacent to Clifton Robinson Tower. The 245,000-square-foot facility will seat 7,000 fans with additional standing-room-only areas for approximately 500 spectators. Construction is expected to begin in June.