The University of Maryland. UM. Maryland. UMCP. UMD.
Whatever you call it, the University of Maryland, College Park, is the premier public university in the Old Line State. Established in 1856 and known previously as both Maryland Agricultural College and Maryland State College, the school enrolls over 26,000 undergraduates and over 10,000 post graduates, easily making it the biggest university in the state and the Washington metro area, which, in addition to southern Maryland, includes the District of Columbia, Virginia, and West Virginia. Consistently ranked one of the premier public universities in the nation, UMD’s campus is also big in size, making it a place you can easily get lost in if you’re not familiar with your surroundings. But even if you don’t know much about the school, the nationally recognized student newspaper "The Diamondback" or the alumni (Jim Henson, Scott Van Pelt, Carl Bernstein, and Larry David, just to name a few), there is one phrase that you probably have heard before which stems from the University of Maryland and its athletics department: "FEAR THE TURTLE."
The university began playing collegiate basketball in 1923 as a part of the Southern Conference. The team had very moderate success before taking a risk and moving to the newly formed Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953. One of eight founding members, the risk paid off because the ACC is now one of the premier basketball conferences in college sports. Unlike most conferences, the ACC does not officially recognize a regular-season champion; the sole champion of the conference each year is decided by the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament. The winner of the tournament also receives the automatic bid to play in the postseason, but many ACC teams are able to claim at-large bids as well to play in March. Since joining the ACC, the Terps have been to the conference champion three times (1958, 1984, 2004). The 2002 season may be the most prominent year in Maryland basketball history, though, as it was the first season that Maryland won the NCAA Tournament championship and the last season for Cole Field House, the Terps’ basketball home since 1955.
The Comcast Center has been the venue for Maryland basketball since November, 2002. Seating just fewer than 18,000, it is currently the third-biggest basketball facility in the ACC, as well as the third youngest. As a Maryland resident, I remember the grand exit the local media and fans gave to Cole Field House for the 47 years of Terrapin tradition that the venue held. Many people had high expectations for the Comcast Center and wondered if the bigger center could be a beautiful state of the art facility while still recognizing the different chapters of Terps basketball history and retaining or strengthening the home-court advantage that made going to College Park very difficult for opposing teams. After seeing the venue firsthand, I can tell you that while the cost of a game day in the Comcast Center gets to be a bit lavish, so is the Terrapin experience while you’re there.
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When I got to the front of the line at the concession stand during halftime, I still had to stand there for a few seconds and go over the choices one more time. That's a good sign. The food at the Comcast Center is diverse with several different options available. All the food is on the second floor, which is known as the lobby level. It's the main floor where you enter when you first come in. If you walk around the whole lobby, which is big in it of itself, you will pass around six or eight concession stands around the center. Nathan's Famous, Seasons Pizza, Plaza Grill, and Chesapeake Cuisine are some of the places you could stop by to grab a bite to eat during the Terps game. There was also a Dairy Ice Cream Stand, although it was closed the particular night I went. Most of the food was your typical sports venue munchies, but I thought the prices might have been a bit steep. Plaza Grill had, among other choices, broiled hamburgers ($6.75), nachos ($5), grilled chicken sandwiches ($5.75), veggie burgers ($5.75), popcorn ($3.50 for medium, $4 for large), and Italian sausages with onions and peppers ($5.75). Some of what Chesapeake Cuisine was selling were buffalo chicken sandwiches ($6), junior hot dogs ($3), pretzels ($3.75), crackerjacks ($3.75), and peanuts ($4). Pepsi products were served in all places in medium ($3.75) and large ($4.75), along with Aquafina bottled water ($3.75). Alcohol is neither sold in the Comcast Center nor are you allowed to bring it in from the outside.
There were also some delicacies that you wouldn't find in many other places outside the region, which is always good to see. Boardwalk Fries were $5, Seasons Pizza was $6 for pizza and $4 for a hot dog, and several places were also selling crab nachos, though I couldn't push myself to spend the money to eat some ($8). Oddly enough, most stands also sold Seattle's Best coffee for $3.50, I suppose in case a bad game made you drowsy. The condiment section was very sufficient and also included Old Bay Seasoning, a staple of the Mid-Atlantic.
No outside food or beverages are allowed inside the center. The food stands are spread out and so it's easy to get lost and start walking in circles around the concourse if you're not careful. The one you're closest to just depends on what exit your seat is nearby. There were definitely lines at halftime, but with about six or so cashiers at every stand able to take orders, the traffic moves surprisingly fast. All concession stands accept cash or credit, and the food comes out fast and hot. One feature that seems small, but was a big deal to me, was the fact that there were chairs and tables in the lobby near the food stands that fans could sit and eat at. I hate getting a bunch of food and having to carry it all to my seat before being able to eat it, keeping it all upright while I weave my way through the aisles. Tables seem like a little thing, but this way, I was able to eat most of what I had comfortably before getting back to my seat. Again it seems like a little thing, but it is definitely something I noticed and liked. I was starving, and so I got a Nathan's Famous hot dog with sauerkraut, boardwalk fries, and a medium soda. It was good food, but nothing to call Bobby Flay or Paula Deen about.
When you're walking to your seat inside the Comcast Center, you really can't help but look up. Directly above the center of the court is a large eight-sided scoreboard with alternating panels: four video boards and four stat boards that you can see from any seat in the venue. The stat boards had the game score, remaining time, timeouts left, team fouls, and the numbers and points of every player on the floor. The video board was used in several different capacities including replays, sponsor messages, and fan cameras. This made it very easy to keep up with the game, whether or not you were able to keep up with all the action. Also hanging from the rafters were countless banners recognizing accomplishments by both the men's and women's teams throughout the years. Maryland basketball may not have the same long resume as some of the other schools in the conference, but there has been periodical success in College Park, and the banners reflect that. There are also jersey numbers and names hanging from the top of the venue of players who had very successful careers as a Maryland Terrapin, from Steve Francis' 23 to Len Bias' 24 to Steve Blake's 25. Gary Williams was the most recent person to have his name hung in the rafters after coaching the team for 22 years (1989 to 2010), bringing home a national title and retiring as the winningest men's coach in school history.
The seats, all red, are like the folding ones that you see at movie theaters minus a cupholder. There are armrests, though, for all the seats, and they are comfortable with adequate leg room. As with most college basketball venues, students get top priority when it comes to good seats. Sections 119-122 are all reserved for Maryland students and are directly behind the opponent's second half basket. The student section is unique and recognized as "The Wall" because of the 35-degree incline that the seats were constructed on. Students also fill the first ten rows around the court. As such, you probably won't get a chance to be too close to the action as a regular fan, but there is not a bad seat in the house. The lower level of seats for fans are sections 116-125 while the upper levels are 204-224. The student band is about 25 students deep and play in the bottom right corner of The Wall, nearby sections 116 and 118. The visiting fans have their own section behind the visiting team's bench, but it's a section that's also surrounded by the Maryland student section. Good luck.
After the PA announcer read off the starting lineups for the opposing team, I was taken by surprise when the whole Comcast Center got dark apart from an array of spotlights. The system played "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes as the videoboards showed a pump-up video that would get even the most casual Terps fan excited about the team, and the game that was about to start. It was a montage of big and flashy plays that ended with one of the Terps' players saying something to the tune of, "It's gametime, Terps Nation. Come on, we need you!" The cheer team was out on the court, and one member waved a huge Maryland flag back and forth at center court. All of the fans went wild, and after announcing the starting lineups for the Terrapins, "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC hit the speakers. It really was the kind of pump-up routine that you might see while watching a professional team and probably has psyched out some visiting players over the years. The Testudo mascot was prominent throughout the game as well, making his way around to the groups of fans and helping to create a fan-friendly and child-friendly environment.
While Maryland does a good job of pumping up the fans before the game, it also keeps its fans involved during the timeouts and intermissions to keep the atmosphere at a high level. The PA announcer is clear and very detailed when making announcements like substitutions and scores for either team. There were several different giveaways where the videoboard cameras looked for fans that were dancing, having a lot of adrenaline, and even flashing their Capital One bank card. Easily, the most entertaining segment, however, as it tends to be at every sporting venue, was the kiss cam. For the most part, fans were very involved in the games and segments. Even though the particular game I went to wasn't very close, I never felt like the fans at the center were disinterested or bored at any point. A big alley-oop by the Terps late in the second half after the game had well been decided was still met with thunderous applause and cheer.
The national anthem was sung by members of a fraternity, and the flags were brought out by members of the ROTC program. If you're not from around Maryland, you may be confused when "The Star-Spangled Banner" is sung in this state, as many fans yell out "OH!" really loudly at the "O say, does that star-spangled..." part of our anthem. It's a homage to the local baseball team, the O's, and many fans will yell it at any sporting event in Maryland, whether or not they're actually at Camden Yards. The local tradition comes under fire occasionally as being a burst of karaoke that disrespects the national anthem. It's hardly alone, though, as the national anthem in Kansas often ends with "home of the Chiefs!" and Houston fans are reportedly known to shout during the part about the "ROCKETS red glare."
On the concourse outside of the seating area in the Comcast Center, there are several small televisions mounted on the wall that give you a live feed of the game as well as stat overlays. This way, if you needed to grab a bite to eat and encountered a long line, you could still stay up to speed with the action, even though you can't see the actual court from the outside concourse. This is a great touch and makes you really feel like you're never far from the action, wherever you are in the venue.
When anyone mentions College Park, Maryland, the first thing any Marylander will think about is the university. College Park is a city of about 30,000 that really does revolve around the University of Maryland and its athletics. According to a recent census, a little over 51% of the College Park population was between the ages of 18 and 24, further showing that College Park is really a college town. I went to a late game, so my choices for where to hang out afterwards was limited but normally, there's a plethora of possibilities. After the game, get on Baltimore Avenue on U.S. Route 1, and check out the array of spots you can hang out or eat at between College Avenue and Guilford Road. The place is considered "downtown" College Park and you have options including Domino's Pizza, Potbelly Sandwich Works, Jimmy John's, Ledo's Pizza, Five Guys, and Cluckster's. If you want to grab a drink, you can go to places like Cornerstone Grill and Loft, Looney's Pub, or The Barking Dog.
After meeting up with a friend who is a sophomore at the university, we went to the Noodles & Company on Baltimore Avenue to grab a late snack. My friend unexpectedly saw one of her suite mates come in while we were eating, which showed that while College Park may be big in size, it is still a tight-knit community. She went on to explain that while College Park is a nice area, you don't want to stray too far from the city bounds. Still, the actual campus is very safe, and students were walking around downtown by themselves, many with backpacks on, when I left at about 11 PM on a weeknight. Though I haven't tried it yet, I don't think it would be hard at all to visit College Park and make an entire day out of it. While in the city, check out the College Park Aviation Museum, built in 1908, or the Art Gallery at the University of Maryland, established in 1955. If you want to stick around for another day but don't have a friend to bunk with, a Quality Inn is about two and a half miles from the Comcast Center and just south of campus.
After I told my friend that one of the guidelines I will be grading the Comcast Center on are the Terrapin fans, the first reaction she had, even though she hadn't been to a Terps basketball game before, was "Aren't Maryland fans known for being rude?"
Yeah, about that....
Let's go over the whole fan package. Most Maryland basketball fans are very passionate, but the students are especially so. The student section started their own chants and stood during the entire game. Some brought signs that had an oversized picture of a player's face on it, and they helped the center get very loud during different moments, such as a big block on defense, a three-pointer by a Terps player, and a free throw attempt by an opposing player. For the fans that weren't students, the mood was a bit more laid back this particular night. Again, because of how the student section works at the Comcast Center, most non-student fans have to sit pretty far from the actual court. That's hardly a deterrent for Maryland fans, though, as the upper sections were packed, especially from section 212 to 216. It also didn't stop a few fans that were sitting behind me from voicing their opinions of how well, or maybe not well, the officials were doing this night. Many of the fans were entire families who came to catch a game, as well as alumni and young couples. Like I said, everyone in the stadium seemed interested and entertained throughout the game, participating in the games that occurred during timeouts, and being very involved in the basketball musical chairs game that happened during halftime. You could hardly spot a fan who wasn't wearing some sort of Terps team apparel, whether it was a hat, shirt, sweatshirt, or jacket. If you come to a Maryland game not wearing Maryland Terrapins gear, just be prepared to be part of the minority.
Maryland fans as a whole seem to be educated as well. They know the players and coaches, and if you asked, many could probably give you an in-depth conversation about the history, the current team, and recruitment. Maryland fans are also well-known for getting to "know" the opposing players, too. I still remember watching nationally televised games from the Comcast Center against Duke while I was in high school and seeing the colorful ways the Maryland fans could show their dislike of the Blue Devils and specifically J.J. Redick. Even though the game I attended was against a non-conference opponent, no one on the other team was safe. The student section shook open newspapers when the other team's lineup was being read off, and after every name that was read, the student section and some fans would loudly yell, "SUCKS!"
"Point Guard John Doe..." "SUCKS!"
"Shooting Guard John Smith..." "SUCKS!"
You get the idea: blunt and to the point. Terps fans also have a tradition of clapping their hands once and then raising them right before a Terrapin player makes a free-throw attempt. Maybe it's a bit telling when a team runs two announcements before the game starts, one on the videoboard and one live, about being respectful fans and showing good sportsmanship. But rude? Not this particular night.
Getting to the University of Maryland and the Comcast Center is not difficult at all, wherever you're coming from. From Baltimore, about 25 miles of the 30 mile trip is going south on Interstate 95. Coming from Washington is a bit trickier because you're not on any major highway or street for an extended period of time, but College Park takes about 40 minutes to drive from either big city, and it's certainly not a bad drive to make whichever direction you're coming from. I took I-95 to get there, and once I got closer to the College Park exit, there were plenty of signs that let you know that, so it would be very hard to miss it even if you didn't have a GPS. Once I got off the highway and onto US 1 (Baltimore Avenue) toward College Park, the drive got a little more difficult. Much of US 1 is tight with a lot of traffic lights, and although it's two lanes, the left one occasionally turns into a left turn only lane without much warning. I don't want to make it seem like it's too bad; it's still so much better than the traffic and confusion you might expect when going to the Verizon Center in Washington or Camden Yards in Baltimore. For College Park, you just have to be sharp and have a good idea of where you're heading.
Once you get to the entrance of the University of Maryland campus, the Comcast Center is pretty far into it. Most of campus is easy to navigate, although this trip marked the second time I got confused in the huge traffic circle that's near the front. In terms of parking, the parking department at UMD, as is true at so many other colleges, is well-known for being sticklers when it comes to parking permits and meter feeding. The motto I said to myself was that if I'm not paying for the parking spot, I'm probably not allowed to park there. With that said I found a wonderful spot that was $3 an hour for weeknights. There were plenty of spots open when I parked and $9, cash or credit, was enough to make sure I still had a car waiting for me when I came back out after the game. The lot is called the Paint Branch Visitor Parking Lot and is just across the street from the A.V. Williams Building. I cannot say for sure that it is definitely the best place to park for a Terrapin basketball game, but for being $9 and about an easy 10-15 minute walk from the center, I think it would be hard to beat. There are many parking lots that are closer to the center, but they all seem to require permits.
The entrance to the Comcast Center is unique because it sits on a hill. You'll get your workout in going up the steps to get to the lobby level and the main concourse. The main ticket window is just outside the main entrance, which is Gate A and located on the south plaza. Gate C is the south ground gate, Gates B and D are the north plaza, and ground gates and Gate E is the garage concourse gate. Gates open 90 minutes prior to the start of the game. Once inside, the venue employees check your ticket and bags. No backpacks, coolers or strollers are allowed in the Comcast Center, and as I said before, outside food and drink is prohibited as well, including alcohol. There is one Capital One ATM by Gate A in case you want to take out some cash, and smoking is not allowed anywhere inside the center. If you need to smoke, there are four designated outdoor smoking balconies, two on the concourse level (3rd floor) and two on the plaza level (2nd floor). The staff is plentiful and was very helpful, and I spotted at least two visitor information stands with employees willing to answer any questions you may have.
While I didn't count them myself, the Comcast Center information guide states there are 37 public bathrooms spread out across the venue, making the chances of coming across a line unlikely even during a sellout. The bathrooms are clean and adequate, but maybe the best part about them is that they play the Terps radio station inside the bathroom. So even as you do your business, you can still hear the play-by-play of the game that's going on. Good or bad, there truly isn't a way to escape the basketball game while you're in the Comcast Center.
This is where I am a bit torn. Maryland basketball is good, but it's never really had a long string of success, being in a very tough conference. The Comcast Center is beautiful, but do you want to spend $25 to $30 to sit in the upper deck against a non-conference opponent?
As with most major collegiate basketball programs, the price of your ticket will depend on the game you wish to attend. In general, I found that tickets for non-conference games are about $25-$30, while tickets for most conference games are about $35-$50. These are the upper deck, section 200 seats: the cheapest you can get. Games against Duke get sold out well in advance and tickets for the North Carolina game were only able to be purchased if you bought a three-game ticket package.
While you have two options in the Baltimore/Washington area for major league professional baseball (Orioles and Nationals) and football (Ravens and Redskins), there's only one option for professional basketball with the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center. The Maryland Terrapins are the only program in the state that is in a major conference, and the quality of opponents the team brings to the Comcast Center far exceeds any other college venue in the area. For those reasons and many others, it's easy to understand why many fans are willing to shell out the money to watch the Terrapins. The games itself are almost always entertaining, and the experience outside of the actual game is exciting and fulfilling as well. It's definitely worth seeing, but it would be hard to make a habit out of it.
The only reason I'm giving a five here is because I can't give anything higher. There are so many different reasons why the Comcast Center has that "it" factor, outside of the actual basketball games, that makes it a marvelous place to go to. For one, there is a Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame & History that can be seen from two different floors. It's massive in size and has names and pictures of the countless Terrapin athletes and administration that helped build the school's storied past across several sports. There is a Terrapin Team Shop that is bigger than some stores at your local mall, and it carries a lot of great merchandise. Under Armour apparel is especially popular in the store since it was founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank, a former fullback at the university. There are several hallways that display old jerseys, pictures, and other memorabilia from the Terrapins basketball team throughout the years, including a signed ball by Len Bias. If you don't know the Len Bias story, please look him up. It's a cautionary tale that hits right at home in Maryland about success and the perils that come with it. Countless banners hang from the rafters, including the NCAA Championship one for the men's team in 2002. Also on your left, just as you walk in, is a piece of the center court of Cole Field House as well as the history surrounding the longtime home of Terrapin basketball.
As I said in the beginning, the Comcast Center does not have nearly the history or tradition that many other college venues in America do - how could it when it's only about a decade old? But the history and the memorabilia that you see in so many different places of the center highlight the fact that while the Terps were looking forward with the construction of the Comcast Center, they certainly want everyone to look back as well.
The Comcast Center is a place that could double as a Maryland Terrapins history museum. If you are a Terps fan who hasn't been there yet, you have to put it at the top of your list. There is so much nostalgia and memorabilia that you can view before, during, or after the game that paints a vivid picture of the successes that the Terrapin program and athletes have experienced throughout the years. If you're not a Terps fan but you're around the area for a bit, I'd still recommend stopping by for a game as well. The games are fun to watch and there's hardly a dull moment. Moreover, the Comcast Center is a beautiful venue that has kept up its pristine shape throughout the first decade. The only two things to fear in the Comcast Center are fear itself...and the turtle!
Comcast Center is home to the University of Maryland Terrapins men's and women's basketball teams. Opening in 2002, it holds over 17,000 fans. Situated in the middle of the campus, minutes away from Washington, DC, the arena has lots of competition when it comes to great indoor arenas.
It holds its own just fine, thank you very much.
7323 Baltimore Avenue
College Park, MD 20740
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