In most games between the mid-major and major conference school, the mid-major plays at the major conference school. This happens for a variety of reasons. First, as has been discussed here before, the mid-major is accepting a guarantee game where they go on the road and likely lose for a paycheck. Also the arena of the mid-major is usually too small to handle any big game, thus necessitating the usually bigger arena of the major conference team. Another reason is that major conference schools need extra home games, so why would they play at the mid-major who they feel superior to? Most major conference schools act with arrogance in regard to themselves against the Other 24, and by going to the mid-major that might threaten their stature. What's worse for their stature potentially is that they might even lose! Major conference schools as a result usually do not want to go on the road before conference play, unless the game has a lot of television money attached to it. This is part of the reason that the Red Line Upset percentage has been so low in previous years.
But now things are beginning to change. Even in difficult economic times where guaranteed checks are needed, mid-majors have gotten better about scheduling major conference teams at home. Some schools like Southern Illinois do not schedule anybody unless the opponent agrees to come play at their place (this however can have harmful effects on one's RPI). But if the mid-major can make a good deal, they can get a major school to come to their arena. Even schools with small arenas have gotten better at scheduling schools above the Red Line. UNC Asheville opened their 3,000 seat arena by playing North Carolina. Coastal Carolina was going to open their 3,500 seat arena against LSU, but when the arena was delayed LSU was made to play at Coastal's 1,000 seat arena. Elon with a 1,700 seat arena was able to play South Carolina at home this year. Even my school, High Point, got Wake Forest to come and play at the Millis Center. When I was at HPU, the best we could get out of conference at home were SoCon schools and even they usually said no. High Point was able to get this deal for two reasons, the first being that the athletic director had previously worked at Wake Forest. If someone on the coaching staff or in the athletic department has a connection to a big school that helps when scheduling them. But what High Point ultimately needed to secure the home game was to schedule Wake Forest the two years prior and the two years afterwards in Winston-Salem, and High Point would not receive a guarantee check for those games. Mid-majors often have to give up a lot to get the home game.
But one mid-major that has no problem getting a major to come and play them at home is College of Charleston. The Cougars tonight would be facing their fourth major conference opponent on their home floor in four years. In 2008-09 C of C hosted South Carolina, North Carolina in 2009-10, Clemson in 2010-11, and now Tennessee in 2011-12. Last year Clemson just barely escaped what was then known as Carolina First Arena, but both Carolinas went away with a loss to the Cougars. The Charleston area does a good job accommodating major schools to come play. The Citadel hosted Clemson in the first game I recapped, and Charleston Southern has hosted major conference teams before whenever they can rent the North Charleston Coliseum. The Charleston Classic in November can also draw power conference teams as well to C of C's 5,100 seat arena. Tennessee came into tonight having lost at home Saturday to Austin Peay, and is reeling from scandals that led to the ousting of Bruce Pearl. Everything was in place to produce a Red Line Upset tonight.
So with the game about to sell out, I secured my ticket in Section 205 at the front of the corner of the balcony in what is now TD Arena. The other option was to see the Citadel play Charleston Southern, and I have been to McAlister Fieldhouse enough this year. The game was not until 9 PM due to the fact that ESPN seems to think South Carolina is out west when scheduling games for ESPN2. So I had plenty of time to do other stuff today. I went to campus at my grad school (South Carolina) and saw a women's basketball game at noon, then headed home to get my computer fixed, and then had dinner with my parents at 5:30. After that, I headed down to Charleston to see if we could have a Red Line Upset. I arrived in downtown Charleston at 7:30 and saw a lot of people wandering the streets around the arena dressed in both maroon and orange. But inside it was mostly the arena it was mostly empty and would remain until tip-off aside from the students.
The students were given free T-shirts, sponsored by Piggly Wiggly, a regional supermarket chain. These shirts were in the Cougars' secondary color of light gold with the primary color of maroon in the lettering. And the only thing on the front of the shirt was a Piggly Wiggly logo. Nothing on the front of the shirt indicated what team the students were supporting, no logos or team names. Apparently the students were to support Team Piggly Wiggly, as only a small College of Charleston logo was on the back, which would not be visible most of the time. I can see the need for corporate sponsorship with mid-majors short of money, but as I discussed in my first Charleston Classic recap it can get a bit excessive at times. When you are going for the Red Line Upset, you need to show your school spirit with apparel that represents the school best.
Charleston did not start the game well and trailed for nearly the entire first half, at one point being down as much as 11. One problem with playing a large SEC school is that those schools have large bandwagons that will fill your seats. Most of the fans were supporting the Cougars, but there were about 1,000 Tennessee fans there. Usually unless you are playing a local rival like the Citadel there will not be that many fans from the opposing team. I had a particularly annoying group four rows behind me who liked singing that awful Rocky Top song every chance they could get. And the officiating also seemed to favor the Vols at times as well. While this was a home game for C of C, it did not feel like a true and complete home game at times. And coming off of finals, homecourt advantage looked like it might not entirely benefit the Cougars.
But the Charleston crowd would not let their team down, and made sure to carry the momentum when the Cougars got a break. C of C would close the deficit to 4 at halftime and would be ready to come out strong as they went for the Red Line Upset. Between the under-16 and under-8 media timeouts, College of Charleston would outscore Tennessee 19-4 to go up by 11. The Cougars held a double digit lead going into the final minutes, and looked to put away the Red Line Upset. But Red Line Upsets are never easy, especially when a team plays nervous. The Cougars missed over half their free throws while the Volunteers knocked down some open 3s and soon enough it was a 3 point game again with a minute to play. When mid-majors play the big boys, this momentum shift is often where a team folds. I saw that when Mississippi Valley State went from being up by 11 with 6 minutes to play at South Carolina to losing by 4. But unlike most mid-majors, Charleston had a home crowd backing them. The crowd kept the players going and carried them across the finish line, and College of Charleston would indeed get another Red Line Upset by a score of 71-65. TD Arena/Carolina First Arena/Whichever Bank Owns It Now Arena needs to be given another new name: RLU Arena. In addition to the Cougars being 3-1 against teams BCS schools there, two of the three previous Red Line Upsets I have seen were there in the Charleston Classic.
As is to be expected when a Red Line Upset is pulled off, students stormed the court, and I am glad the event staff did not try to prevent that. But nobody else seemed to be that excited about the upset and just looked at it as another big win by the Cougars. While I took photos and basked in the excitement of the RLU, everybody else in my section was ready to leave when the buzzer sounded. The non-student fans seemed eager to return to the cramped streets and the even more cramped parking garages (which I would complain about more if not for the happiness a RLU brings). The players did not seem to be overly excited either. While their fellow students rushed their way, they simply lined up to shake hands with the Volunteers and rather than sticking around just headed back to the locker room. They had been here before, as Andrew Goudelock in recent years has created many Red Line Upsets, and earlier this year the Cougars had won at Clemson as well.
But what made this Red Line Upset possible was the C of C fans, in particular the students. The way the crowd rose in key situations made sure that the Cougars would always stay composed and never lose momentum even when things were not going well. This is the very reason why major conference teams don't like coming to mid-majors: the homecourt advantage is gone for them, and the mid-majors can win and get themselves on better footing with the big boys.
at CHARLESTON 71, TENNESSEE 65 12/14/2011
TENNESSEE 3-6 (0-0) -- T. Golden 4-8 0-0 9; J. McRae 6-12 3-4 19; J. Maymon 4-6 1-2 9; J. Richardson 1-2 0-0 2; S. McBee 3-8 0-0 9; C. Tatum 1-6 0-0 2; K. Hall 1-1 0-0 2; D. Miller 6-8 0-0 13; R. Woolridge 0-5 0-0 0; Y. Makanjuola 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-57 4-6 65. CHARLESTON 8-1 (2-0) -- A. Wiggins 10-12 1-5 24; A. Lawrence 3-12 7-10 14; T. Wiedeman 3-7 2-6 8; A. Stitt 3-7 2-3 9; A. Baru 3-4 2-2 8; M. Sundberg 3-5 0-0 8; J. Scott 0-4 0-0 0; N. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-51 14-26 71.
Three-point goals: TENN 9-29 (C. Tatum 0-4; R. Woolridge 0-2; D. Miller 1-2; S. McBee 3-8; T. Golden 1-4; J. McRae 4-8; J. Richardson 0-1), COFC 7-15 (A. Wiggins 3-4; M. Sundberg 2-4; A. Lawrence 1-2; J. Scott 0-2; A. Stitt 1-3); Rebounds: TENN 33 (J. Maymon 8), COFC 24 (A. Wiggins 8); Assists: TENN 14 (T. Golden 5), COFC 13 (A. Lawrence 4); Total Fouls -- TENN 20, COFC 8; Fouled Out: TENN-None; COFC-None.