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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
The University of North Florida is located in Jacksonville, Florida and is home to a student body of more than 16,000 students. It is a relatively young school, opening in 1972. A majority of its students are locals, with 42% coming from the Jacksonville/Duval County area. The largest schools within the university are the School of Arts and Sciences, followed by the Business School and the School of Health. More than 60% of the student body is female.
The basketball team is even younger than the school, as athletics were not added at the University until 1992. The Ospreys (a hawk-like raptor native to coastal regions) call the UNF Arena home. This facility is located on the UNF campus and holds 5,800 in its basketball configuration. The Ospreys compete in the Atlantic Sun Conference, which includes schools such as Stetson, Northern Kentucky, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, USC Upstate and Florida Gulf Coast University. Conference members do not field football teams, for the most part, so basketball is king at these schools. Some of UNF’s non-conference foes include Florida, FSU, Iowa, Purdue and Alabama.
The Ospreys team members predominantly come from the South Georgia and North Florida region, so the players have a lot of local support from family and friends. Throughout their history the Ospreys have been a nearly-.500 team. This can probably be attributed to several factors: 1) a relatively young basketball program 2) UNF plays in a conference with several small conference basketball powerhouses 3) a tough non-conference schedule 4) a predominanty female student body (the Osprey women’s athletics programs have a much more successful history).
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 UNF concession stands offer a nice variety of foods at very reasonable prices. Domestic beers are available at $3.50, sodas at $4 and bottled water for $2. On the food front, hot dogs and pizza slices are $3, jumbo pretzels are $5 and a large popcorn is $5. Spirit merchandise is not sold within the UNF Arena, but the campus bookstore is located right next door, and has a wide variety of UNF spirit items available. The "4" rating is for decent food for a much more reasonable price than most facilities charge.
The vibe you get attending games at the UNF Arena is somewhat like a high school basketball game, but not due to the quality of play. The seating at the arena is fold-up bleachers, although on a much larger scale than a high school gymnasium. Add to that the fact that many times players on both college teams are often local products who may have been former teammates or hated rivals in their high school days. It is also not unusual to have fans/parents in the stands that also share a common link of where they attended high school. This creates a light-hearted atmosphere at the games with some good-natured trash talking thrown in.
The University of North Florida campus is very isolated, as a large portion of its acreage is dedicated as a nature preserve, so there is no development except University-related buildings. That being said, the campus is very modern, as greater than 50% of its buildings are less than ten years old. It is a beautiful campus, with nature trails, fountains and plenty of support facilities to provide for the needs of the portion of the student body that does live on campus. It has an excellent campus transportation system, which is a necessity, as the campus is extremely spread out.
Since UNF does not have a football program, the Ospreys basketball program is the "big bird" on campus. Despite the team's mediocre record over the years, the student body is very supportive of the program. The student activity fee allows all students to attend games at no charge, and they fill the UNF Arena on a regular basis. They are also the most into the game of any small school I have been to. Ospreys fans chant, jump up and down, sing and dance in coordination with a great pep band. Their energy is catching.
The Atlantic Sun Conference has a number of neighboring Florida colleges as members, so there are actually many rivalries during the season, rather than one. None of these can match up to the rivalry between UNF and its crosstown foe, the Jacksonville University Dolphins. Known as the River Center Rumble, the two games these teams play each season have to be played in the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in downtown Jacksonville, which holds more than 14,000. Neither of the schools' on-campus facilities could accommodate the number of fans wanting to attend the game.
Two other factors for the Ospreys fan fervor are the antics of Ozzie, the team mascot, and the fact that Homecoming Week and all the enthusiasm it creates are focused on the basketball program.
As mentioned earlier, the UNF campus is located more than 10 miles from downtown Jacksonville. However, as long as you have a car, it is very easy to get to. The university is located just off I-295, the ring road which bypasses the I-95 corridor through downtown, which is under heavy construction. It is impossible to miss its exit, as it is listed as the University of North Florida/Town Center Parkway exit, and the entry gate for the school is just feet away. Once on campus, signs are very clear in directing you to the athletic facilities, and all buildings on campus are named and numbered. (The UNF Arena is #34 and the UNF Arena parking garage is #38) The parking deck is across the street from the arena, and is connected by a covered elevates walkway over the street.
The most expensive ticket for a UNF ball game is $15, and numerous discounts are given for seniors, military, children, faculty and students. Parking is free of charge at the UNF Arena Parking Garage located adjacent to the arena, and as mentioned before, concession prices are very reasonable. The on-campus feel of the facility also adds to a positive experience. All in all, the UNF basketball program provides an excellent ROI, especially for families with children.
The St. John's Town Center shopping area is located just a mile from the campus on the other side of I-295. This open-air mall is the major shopping destination in the Jacksonville area, as it features 150 stores ranging from Tiffany's to Walmart. There are countless restaurants throughout the complex, including the Cheesecake Factory, Applebee's, Longhorn Steaks, PF Chang's and just about every fast food chain you can imagine. St. John's Town Center is an excellent pre-game stop for dinner and shopping before you go to the game.
The second extra is that the Atlantic Ocean and Jacksonville Beach are a five-minute drive from the campus. This allows you to enjoy some time at the beach before heading to the campus for a game, as Jacksonville has very moderate temperatures throughout the year.
Member Review by StPeteRays
Amongst all of the state-run institutions in Florida, the University of North Florida seems to be lost in the mix with bigger schools like Florida, Florida State, Central Florida, South Florida, and even the smaller Florida A&M. It has a smaller endowment than all of the above schools as well as a larger acceptance rate, even though their campus area is one of the largest in the state. Maybe because Jacksonville just doesn't have the cachet that the cities in which the other schools are located; I mean, would you rather go to school in Miami, Tampa, Orlando...or Jacksonville?
This may be an unfair question, but one that needs to be asked, as I had never heard of this school until I researched all the Division I basketball programs in Florida and came across this gem of a school. The campus is in the middle of a nature preserve just to the east of Jacksonville's beltway, Interstate 295 - the portion of which that passes to the east of downtown Jax. Nestled between trees and lakes is this almost rustic, yet very modern, campus. At the heart of the campus is UNF Arena, the 5,800-seat venue built in 1993 to house, amongst other sports, the basketball teams.
Member Review by alee1227 on Mar 01, 2015
Went to Senior Night 2015. The student section was lively and fun. Parking garage connected by walkway. Overall a fun night.
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