Game #8-497: Davidson Wildcats at Furman PaladinsFebruary 1, 2012 7:00 pm
I had not been to Furman's Timmons Arena in three years. The last time I was there was when I went to visit all 23 Division I and Division II men's basketball arenas in South Carolina. Back then I had intended to go see Davidson play there, but when the presence of Stephen Curry led to a sellout, I had to move my visit up earlier in the week to a lightly attended game against Georgia Southern. Tonight I got my chance to see Davidson at Timmons Arena, reserving my ticket a few hours in advance. I took a seat in the Davidson section, since the best available seats were among the visitors. It looked to be a full crowd, and tickets were $15. Those are slightly above average for mid-major basketball, presumably because the game was against first-place Davidson and their large number of traveling fans.
While this was a good matchup to see on a Wednesday night (most mid-majors play midweek games on Mondays and Thursdays to condense travel costs with weekend games), I was dreading Timmons Arena slightly. Like some of the places I visited last December, the place is not well-suited for basketball. But unlike those other arenas, it isn't suited for hockey either. Timmons Arena is designed to serve as an auditorium for concerts and special events (before the opening of the downtown Bi-Lo Center in 1999, it was Greenville's premier concert venue), with one side of retractable seating that pulls out for basketball. The arena seats over 5,000, but that includes bleacher seating with an obstructed view, far from the court in the corners of the baseline. Furman usually closes the bleacher space behind large black curtains and uses it as a picnic area, reducing the capacity of the basketball configuration to 2,900. Aside from the retractable seats opposite the benches and scorers' table, most seats in Timmons Arena are far from the court.
The arena and the Furman campus are also at a bit of a remove, being on the northern edge of the city of Greenville. The lack of good access to the major freeways of the upstate can create traffic congestion coming out of big campus events, as most of the Greenville metro area and all the major highways are to the south of campus in one direction.
Trying to get through rush-hour Greenville traffic, I decided that it was too congested to stop and eat or use an ATM if I wanted to get to the game my usual 30 minutes before tip. But I only had seven dollars in cash, and with money tight I was wondering how I could stretch it out at the Furman concessions. When I arrived it was raining, but it was warm and friendly, and once I got inside the arena at 6:10 I felt more relaxed. After ten minutes, I decided to go to the bathroom and to check concession prices. As I got on the concourse, I was offered a free piece of pizza. The pizza was cut into tiny squares, and I assumed I would get one of those squares. Still, it meant a way to reduce spending elsewhere. To my surprise, I got three squares rather than one!
I then went to the bathroom and looked to see how much the drinks cost. I did not see a menu, but did see drinks sitting on the counter. I picked up a Mountain Dew and asked how much it cost. "It's free," said the girl working the counter. With a full slice of pizza and a drink, I was ready to have a small free meal. As I walked back to my seat, I saw a freezer in the picnic area where people were just taking ice cream sandwiches. I decided to pick one up myself and had even more free food! And I noticed a lot of people were carrying around food at Timmons Arena. Could I find even more free food and turn my free small meal into a free full dinner? Does Furman not charge for concessions?
The answer: Furman does not charge for concessions!
I went back and ordered a hot dog, and was asked, "Is that all? You can get four items with each visit." So with that, I also picked up another slice of pizza and nachos on the side as well. Since I already had a drink from my last visit, I decided that would be it, even though the woman working the counter really wanted to give me another item of food. Where else can you go in sports and have everything on the menu in the concessions stand cost nothing?
I know of some pro baseball stadiums where you can buy certain special tickets that come with free food, but you either have to accept very bad seats or pay a whole lot more for the right to have all the food you want. At Furman, though, all tickets are the same and there is no cash register at the concession stand. The people working there just serve you the food you ask for, and you get it and go back to your seat with nobody paying for it. Some of the schools below the Black Line, and some non-revenue mid-major sports, may have free admission; most non-revenue sports outside of Division I have free concessions, in that there are no concessions. But at Furman, you can have all the pizza, burgers, nachos, hot dogs, ice cream sandwiches, popcorn, and drinks you want without paying for it. You are limited to four items per visit, but your visits are not limited. This is something I have never experienced before.
The $15 ticket that gets you in may be slightly above average for mid-major basketball. But I have on occasion paid $20 for tickets, while still having to pay high concession prices at mid-major games. (Nearly all schools above the Red Line charge more for basketball tickets as well.) The Paladins' SoCon rival College of Charleston charges at least $15 for each home game, bumping that up to $20 for important weekend conference games and $25 for games against opponents above the Red Line as well as Citadel games.(And that is with high prices at the concession stand as well as parking fees for their garages.) The Citadel and Wofford both charge $10 for admission, but that easily comes to above $15 once you add a drink and a small snack at their pricey concession areas. Davidson charges $14, and that is for seats in the upstairs bleachers; like everybody else, they also charge for concessions. Furman charges $15 for admission, and absolutely everything else in the arena is free. The school has admitted that raising the price from $12 to $15 didn't actually cover the costs of the concession stand. But the Paladins have been doing much better in attendance since instituting the new "all-inclusive" policy a year ago, and it has worked well for them. Where else can you get a better deal?
This can be the kind of thing that helps boost support for basketball at a traditionally football school. And Furman has a history of being different. The college was willing to cut its historical ties with the Southern Baptist Convention 20 years ago to promote better academic freedom and more religious perspectives, despite being in a conservative city with Bob Jones University just a few miles down the road. And Furman students are very proud of the school's initials, "FU." The double entendre of its name is not uncommon among South Carolina schools. (At one time last year, I saw the Charleston Southern women's basketball team play three games, all against teams with suggestive names: the South Carolina Gamecocks
, the Presbyterian Blue Hose
, and the College of Charleston Cougars
But the initials FU are quite unique. Supposedly Jerry Falwell, when looking to rename his Lynchburg Baptist College, considered naming the school after himself. But he did not approve of the initials Falwell University brought, so he went with Liberty University instead. But Furman fans are very proud of their initials. In my history classes at High Point, there was always a student with a FU Furman cap, and I doubt he had any connection to Furman. I know there have been students kicked out of school in other states for wearing South Carolina hats that simply read "Cocks." I wonder if that has been the case for Furman gear that reads "FU"? I remember that when my high school outlawed white t-shirts for one day, one student protested by writing the letters F U in blue ink in defiance on his white t-shirt. Furman shirts can provide the same message, just by using the school's abbreviation.
The school seems to approve of this; as I recall, when I went to Furman for a baseball game a graphic on the scoreboard read "GO F U," with a space in between the F and the U. Furman students also chant their school initials at opponents during free throws. Opponents also like to pick up on the initials as well. I remember last year when Furman played at Charleston, C of C students chanted their opponent's initials alongside their opponent's school name.
Initials aside, I like how Furman is different from all other schools in the region, and its scenic campus on the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a unique place to visit. But this wasn't FU's night on the court. Davidson was coming off a bad road loss over the weekend at Samford. Furman seemed to have a good crowd behind it and made big shots, but could never string them together for a much-needed run. On defense they played well except when fouling the Wildcats, and the good free throw shooters at Davidson made the most of their chances. Davidson had a 40-30 lead at halftime, and I went to get another ice cream sandwich and a Dr. Pepper because I can just do that here with no problem. Not having people pay for the concessions also helps the lines move better as well.
The Paladins started to come back in the second half; cutting the Wildcat lead to two five minutes into the second half. But the foul trouble continued to hurt their depth and the Wildcats stormed back to a double digit lead. Furman continued to foul repeatedly at the end, giving away free throws like they were hot dogs at the concession stand. The Wildcats knocked down foul shots to end up with a 71-53 win, although the game was a bit closer than the final score indicates.
When I walked out, the concession workers were offering to give away their remaining hamburgers and hot dogs. But I had already had plenty to eat, and eating that much often is not good for you so I had to pass up the final offer. But it is a great deal, one that more people need to take advantage of. Furman's campus is a bit out of the way if you are not in Greenville, and that's why it was the last remaining mid-major arena not to have a recap from it in South Carolina. But if you are traveling in the Upstate of South Carolina, it is really worth the visit to Timmons Arena. All the food you can eat with Division I basketball is a great experience for $15, and is part of many reasons why Furman is a different place.