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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Many college sports fans are likely familiar with Spartanburg, South Carolina, as the home of Wofford University. Wofford is hardly the only successful Division I athletics program in the "Sparkle City," as it is dubbed, however.
Formerly known as USC-Spartanburg, USC Upstate came to be in 2004, and gained Division I status in 2007. The school was not eligible to gain NCAA postseason berths until the 2011-12 season, however, and Upstate basketball did not wait to capitalize on the opportunity. The Spartans made an appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament in 2012, defeating Kent State on their home floor in the Hodge Center before falling to Old Dominion University. Upstate has made multiple appearances in that same postseason tournament since their initial success, and has gone on to place many former Spartan stars in the professional ranks both in the United States and abroad.
Upstate is part of the competitive Atlantic Sun Conference, and is drawing star players from the Palmetto State and across the country. The program is rebuilding a bit after losing some of those great stars, but the foundation for a successful program has clearly been put into place.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The dining choices at an Upstate basketball game are about average for a smaller school. The single stand in the lobby offers nachos ($2.50), various snacks (Cracker Jack, trail mix, chips, candy and gum for $1.25 each, or Blow Pops or AirHeads priced at three for a dollar), soft pretzels ($2.50), popcorn ($2.50), hot dogs ($2.50), and combos featuring a turkey sub, chips and soda or a personal pizza (cheese or pepperoni), a cookie and a soda for $6.50 apiece. The nachos and hot dogs seem to be popular choices. Chick-fil-A sandwiches are also available at some games.
Coca-Cola is the bottler for the campus, and Powerade, bottled sodas and water are available for $2.50 from the stand. There are also drink machines placed throughout the lobby. These machines offer a few drink choices not available at the stand.
The Hodge Center is...well, let's just call it "intimate." The arena seats 818 fans, which means that just about everyone is going to get a great seat to see the action. The only seats with a questionable view are those behind the student section at midcourt. Even still, this is a workable situation.
There is no band at Upstate - likely due to the smaller enrollment numbers - so the cheerleaders and Spartan mascot make a lot of appearances on the floor during breaks. The school fills in the blanks with a fairly typical musical soundtrack, and the cheerleaders perform routines to many of the songs that are played. Though a pep band would be nice, there may not be room for one in the gym's current configuration, and silence is not a problem, by any means.
The Hodge Center has large video scoreboards on either end of the floor. These scoreboards feature running player totals, in-game video capability and numerous additional touches. Spartan games are carried on ESPN3, for the most part, and the school shows that video feed on the board during the game. There is also a center-court scoreboard on the scorer's table, which shows the game's score, shooting percentages and occasional advertisements.
There are only eight sections of seats inside the Hodge Center, and whether you purchase a general admission seat or sit courtside, you will have a comfortable chairback seat from which to enjoy the game. The safety railing on the edge of the riser closest to the entrance door is at an angle, so if heights concern you, you may want to choose a seat a bit closer to the center of the row. Though the seats are quite comfortable, there is no cupholder on the seat, which might be a helpful touch.
The VIP seating is one other interesting option offered at Upstate games. For $20, fans are treated to a comfortable chair literally within a couple of feet of the action taking place on the floor. If you want a true feel of what is taking place at the floor level, this might be an idea to try.
The USC Upstate campus is just off US Highway 176 and South Carolina Interstate 585. There is essentially nothing within walking distance of the campus, but some options exist within a 5 to 10-minute drive. Still more is available around the Dorman Center in Spartanburg, which is 10-15 minutes by car. If you do head to the Dorman Center area, visit Jake's Wayback Burgers. This burger chain has locations around the region and offers great burgers, quick service and televisions tuned to your favorite game.
South Carolina favorite FATZ Cafe has a location on South Carolina Highway 9 (Boiling Springs Road), along with Copper River Grill. A number of chain choices are available on South Carolina Highway 56 (Asheville Highway), which is one exit away on the business loop of 85. The Spartanburg landmark Beacon Drive-In is another option, should you have a car available and wish to make the trip.
Upstate's reputation as a "commuter" school is starting to catch up with it a bit. The student environment is hit-or-miss, depending upon the opponent in town and the day of the week. The game we attended was against a conference foe on a Saturday, but did not offer much in terms of student atmosphere.
There are, however, a number of loyal fans that show up for every Upstate game, and they are not just in the VIP seats. Keep an ear out for those fans when attending a Spartan game, as they are always giving the referees a bad time -- playfully, of course -- and exhorting their favorites in green and white.
Fans visiting USC Upstate can access the area via Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, which is approximately 15 miles from the campus. A number of surface roads connect to the campus, including interstates 85, 85 Business, 585 and 26, US 176 and several South Carolina highways. Wofford College and Converse College are also nearby, should you wish to take in another game on your trip.
Visiting a game at the Hodge Center could not be easier in terms of ingress and egress. The campus is just off 176 and 585 at the East Campus Boulevard exit. The Hodge Center is just off University Way, facing East Campus Boulevard. Plentiful free parking surrounds the building and your space is just steps away from the front door. With the proximity of the university to the highway, fans can be in their car and on their way after the game in a matter of minutes.
The lobby contains the concession stand, drink machines, souvenir stand and restrooms. The area can get a bit crowded at times, but lines are never really an issue. Even during the half, the lines move quickly and you are returned to your seat in relatively short order. Keeping with the theme, the restrooms are somewhat small, but well-appointed. There are a few lines for concessions at the half, but they move quickly enough that there is not a substantial delay in returning to your seat.
If your goal is to see Division I basketball at a reasonable price, USC Upstate is the place to go. There are three seating levels: general admission ($8), reserved ($15) and VIP ($20). The VIP seats are courtside, but the general admission seats are, quite honestly, a pretty great value. The eight seating sections in the arena have the general admission seats in the four corner sections, with the reserved seats in the two middle sections on either side of the court.
A general admission ticket, hot dog, soda, parking and program will total $13. This is an incredible deal. A family of four can see a Spartan game for under $60, which is cheaper than some movies.
Of all the things in the lobby of the Hodge Center, the best of those things rests on a table just inside the main doors. Sure, the program you will find there is relatively small - it contains the team's schedule, standings, notes and facts about the opposing team and both teams' rosters - but it includes all the information any fan would need. The best part of the program is the price tag, or lack thereof.
There is also a souvenir table prominently located in the lobby, and it contains a wide variety of Upstate souvenirs. T-shirts, hats and additional logo products are for sale, all at great prices.
Fans are often pulled out of the stands to participate in contests during breaks. Many of these contests involve basketball shooting prowess, as one might imagine. A fan won a $20 gift card from FATZ Cafe on the day we attended by knocking down a half-court shot. The difference between this and other half-court shot contests -- and perhaps the reason for the seemingly lesser prize -- is that the shooter gets as many tries as they can take in 30 seconds.
There are also a number of statues and plaques inside and outside the facility. A Spartan statue is just outside the entry doors, a nod to the school's mascot and nickname. Just inside the lobby, there is a plaque honoring G.B. Hodge, for whom the building is named. There is also an honorary section to Dolores Anderson, a local businesswoman who was the primary donor for many of the renovations to the Hodge Center.
The Hodge Center is not a large coliseum with all the modern amenities -- in fact, it may remind some of a gym found at a high school -- but don't let this stop you from paying a visit to the campus. There are numerous water features and landmarks to visit throughout the campus, and after a walk to visit these features of the campus, you will get to see quality Division I basketball in a comfortable place at a reasonable price. Combine all of this with the hospitality from the university's staff, and you will surely find the Hodge Center to be a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or evening watching basketball.
Member Review by brian on Dec 09, 2012
It is likely a safe bet that many travelers have taken a ride on South Carolina Interstate 85 between Atlanta and Charlotte, asking themselves about that USC Upstate school they see on billboards and exit signs around Spartanburg, South Carolina. These billboards alert motorists that, in their words, “This is Spartan Country” and this is a school “On The Rise”. The university's athletic programs certainly agree with that claim.
Formerly known as USC-Spartanburg, USC Upstate came to be in 2004, and gained Division I status in 2007. The school was not eligible to gain NCAA postseason berths until the 2011-12 season, however, and Upstate basketball did not wait to capitalize on the opportunity. The Spartans made an appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament in 2012, defeating Kent State on their home floor in the Hodge Center before falling to Old Dominion University. Matt Fincher's Upstate baseball team fell just shy of making their first postseason appearance, as well, finishing second in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 33-20 record.
With a recently-upgraded home – and more upgrades potentially on the way – and a spot in the competitive Atlantic Sun Conference, USC Upstate is starting to draw great athletes from the Palmetto State and across the country. As the Spartans continue to play more big-name opponents and draw attention to themselves, it should become more and more obvious that the billboards fans see are not cockiness, but fact.
Member Review by lavelldow on Feb 03, 2013
Member Review by ianmccor on Apr 18, 2014
Way too small for a D1 arena. But Upstate knocks every other aspect out of the park.
Member Review by Reddeath on Apr 19, 2014
Not even big enough for a high school gym. Sure it is a home court advantage but that is because there are only 800 seats. And who from another team is going to travel there. One food station and vending machines. Come on man
2104 SC Hwy 9
Boiling Springs, SC 29316
255 John B White Sr Blvd
Spartanburg, SC 29306
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