It is not so common that colleges and universities are founded in one city, only to move on to a new home. This is the case in at least two institutions in the Carolinas – Catawba College and Furman University. Furman began as Furman Academy and Theological Institution in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1826. Twenty-four years later, the school made the almost 100-mile move north to Greenville, South Carolina, its current home.
Furman basketball has also had multiple homes, formerly taking up residence in Greenville Memorial Auditorium. The 1997 opening of the BI-LO Center in Greenville rendered Memorial Auditorium obsolete, and the city destroyed it in that same year. Furman opened Timmons Arena on what is referred to as South Campus in 1998, bringing Paladin basketball to the school's grounds. Though Furman has not seen an NCAA Tournament bid in over three decades, their participation in the highly-competitive Southern Conference and the sights on the expansive campus make Timmons Arena a great place to visit.
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The concession offerings at Timmons Arena are reasonably similar to those found in many other arenas. Pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and soda (Pepsi products) are available from one of two stands on either side of the arena lobby, with ice cream available in a cooler just steps away from the seating bowl on the concourse. The stands are somewhat small, but the lines seem to remain manageable.
The best part of the concessions is their price: $0. This is not a misprint. Furman offers what it refers to as the All Inclusive Ticket for each home basketball game, allowing fans to get up to four concession items per trip, with unlimited trips. This is very popular for families, and provides a tremendous value. Of course, as one might expect, the popularity of this option led to the stands running out of certain items long before the cutoff period (seven minutes remaining in the game) on the day I visited.
There are four areas into which to enter YP.com Court at Timmons Arena. There are two entries on the upper level and two on the lower level. The general admission seats are accessible from the upper level entry, along with the reserved seats on the same side as the teams' benches. There is a concourse separating the upper and lower levels, which we will address further in the Access section of the review.
The general admission seats are fairly comfortable chair-backs - assuming, of course, that the bleachers are not pulled out for general admission use. The concourse provides what appears to be a great place to stand and watch the game, but the ushers tend to chase off fans before the game starts, even if they are standing in an area that would not block anyone's view. When speaking of having one's view blocked, the seats - especially those in general admission - are not pitched on a very large incline, which makes for the occasional obstructed view. The upper level seats are already reasonably far from the floor, with the concourse making the distance seem that much further.
Another thing that adds to the distance is the public address system. Though there are a number of speakers that hang over the court, the public address system was being run through floor-level speakers on the day I visited. This made the announcements very tough to hear without being near the floor. I am not sure as to whether this is standard procedure or a one-time thing, but it did present some concerns for fans trying to hear the public address announcer.
Furman has a very talented pep band seated behind the basket opposite the corner from which the players enter the floor. The group plays during breaks in the action, sometimes accompanied by the cheerleaders. The cheerleaders stay behind the opposite basket for most of the game, except for the halftime break.
Furman has a very large campus (750 acres), and the campus is tailor-made for lovers of the outdoors. During my drive through campus, I saw a number of walkers and bikers enjoying the bike paths, hiking trails and outdoor spaces. There is a gorgeous area on campus that feels much like a state park, with an outdoor amphitheater, athletic fields, a cottage, hiking and biking trails, a lake and the bell tower for which the campus is known. This gives the campus a feel of being in a much more secluded area, despite being just minutes from downtown Greenville.
The benefit of the "remote" feel of the campus is also a downfall, as the campus is off US Highway 276 in northern Greenville. The only things truly near the area are a McDonald's, a Publix grocery store and a Wok Inn restaurant. This strip mall is nearly a mile from campus along a busy road, so walking may be out of the question. If you are in search of food choices, movie theaters, shopping and the like, it is best to head to Cherrydale, which is three miles away at the intersection of 276 and South Carolina Highways 253 and 291. Civilization is certainly reachable, but likely not walkable.
The situation in the stands was a quite unusual one on the day I visited. Furman's opponent was Davidson, the school Stephen Curry led to success several years ago. The drive from Davidson's campus in north Charlotte is only 100 miles or so, which allowed the Wildcat faithful to turn out in fairly large numbers. The Davidson group made a lot of noise, almost seeming to take over the arena at times.
Furman's fans got involved when they should have, making noise after the Paladins hit a big shot or went on a run. There were several times during the game where the Furman faithful seemed to either be really involved in the game or just quiet. The student section made the most noise when led in the traditional "FU All The Time" chant, but could not seem to truly counter the energy from the Davidson group. Furman basketball is on its way back up after recent struggles, and one might imagine that the crowds will become more lively as the team begins to rack up more victories.
It was mentioned earlier that the seats are not pitched on a high incline, which combines with the unlimited concessions to create a few sightline concerns. As fans can take as many trips to the concession stands as they wish, this means that fans - mostly kids - are frequently up-and-down to go get more food or beverages. This can block the view from your seats, and with no video scoreboard over the center of the court, one is left to judge what is happening by the crowd reaction. A scoreboard in the center of the facility to go along with those in either end zone might help alleviate this condition a bit.
We stated earlier that Furman is in the northern part of Greenville along US 276. Fans flying in for a visit will probably want to utilize Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. With the airport's location, this is approximately a 25-30 minute drive via South Carolina's Interstates 85 and 385, South Carolina 291 and US 276.
Once you arrive at Timmons Arena, parking is free and plentiful. The lots directly in front of the arena are marked as reserved, but with the arena being part of an athletic complex, there should never be a problem finding a place to park. If you park in the public section near the arena, there is an obvious exit from the lot to the main road, but the parking attendants will force you back down the aisle to take two right turns to get back to where you attempted to exit. This seems convoluted and unnecessary, given the normal crowd at a Furman game. Traffic moves freely along the road leading to the facility, so there should not be excessive delays back to US Highways 276 or 25, or any chosen destination.
The layout inside the arena is equally choppy and convoluted. This starts in the arena lobby, with the entrances to the seating bowl to the left and right, with the ticket windows in the middle and a turnstile leading to either entrance. The upper-level men's bathroom is on the right side, with the women's bathroom on the left side. The easiest way to get from one bathroom to the other is to walk into the seating bowl and across the concourse, due to the crowd and turnstile setup in the lobby. There are two restrooms (one each of the men's and women's variety) on the lower level. The restrooms are clean and reasonably appointed, though oddly-shaped. Speaking of the lower level, if your seat is on the opposite side of the arena from the entrance, your path will include a trip to the lower level and a walk across the floor through either end zone. The concourse does not ring all the way around the arena, which makes for a somewhat circuitous route across the facility.
If it is a great deal on entertainment you seek, Timmons Arena is the destination for you. The unlimited concessions and free parking have been mentioned on several occasions, and combined with a $10 general admission ticket price, it is really tough to beat this value for basketball at the Division I level. Furman is a fun team to watch, no matter the record, and the conference in which they play brings in great talent on a regular basis.
Using our regular test, you can park your car and get a ticket, hot dog - assuming they've not yet run out of them - program and soda for $10. A family of four can get a game ticket and a meal for $40. It is tough for two people to get a movie and a meal for $40, much less four.
There is not much of a program offered at Furman games, but ushers do provide a single-sheet offering free of charge to fans. This is very basic, but offers a roster and stat sheet for both teams. Though there is no background on the program, it does at least help to know the names of the players on both sides.
Though Timmons Arena is still a relatively young facility, there is plenty of athletic history at Furman. The school pays homage to this history in several ways. There is a trophy case in the lobby that celebrates some of the school's athletic successes, and banners hang in the arena for both the men's and women's programs. A group of retired numbers is among the banners, with the most prominent being the number 28 of the NBA's first overall draft pick by the Baltimore Bullets in 1954, Frank Selvy. Selvy had a 100-point game at Furman, and experienced great success as a collegian and professonal.
There is also a Wall of Honor on the lobby wall mentioning the names of those who are friends of Furman athletics and have helped with the process of building and improving Timmons Arena. It is well-known that every collegiate program has benefactors, but this is a good way to pay tribute to those who help grow the program.
The unlimited concessions have gotten plenty of mention here, but this is truly an extra that is uncommon among college sports. Though there were some concerns with food availability and fans popping up and down to get more food, this is a great addition for fans and college students alike. One would hope this continues to be offered as an option.
The most popular extra arguably takes place during the halftime break. The cheerleaders sign autographs and hand out posters on the upper-level concourse. This was one of the favorite parts of the day for many of the kids in the stands, as I saw a number of them headed back to their seats carrying the posters.
If a combination of history, natural beauty and athletic history is what you seek when planning your athletic travels, Furman is a destination that checks off each of these boxes. You can even bring along your bicycle, your soccer ball or your walking shoes and make a day out of exploring the Furman campus. Should you love the outdoors as much as you love the indoors, start planning a visit. You will not be disappointed.
Everyone complains about the sightlines here which are better suited for theater, but Timmons Arena is one of the best bargains in the SoCon especially when they gave food away for free.
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