Ranking the Big Ten's Stadiums: The Toughest Places To Play in 2009
What exactly are we talking about when we rank "toughest stadiums to play in"?
The first thing that comes to mind for most would be: How has the stadium been viewed historically? But other factors are also just as important.
The sheer size of The Big House, Beaver Stadium, and Ohio Stadium can make opposing teams quiver. However, Beaver Stadium, for instance, isn't quite as intimidating when the sun is shining.
Does the quality of the team matter? Camp Randall is notoriously difficult, but last season the "jump around" session meant to intimidate only got opposing teams to join in on the fun.
Are the elements a significant factor? It is a lot tougher to play at Michigan Stadium in November than in September.
Then there are intangibles like: Is it a day game or night game? Are Fowler, Corso, Herbie, and Des camped out in front of the stadium?
Perhaps the most important question to ask: Which stadium would opposing teams least like to visit?
I have taken all of this into account and now present...The 'The Toughest Places To Play in 2009'
The picture above is an artist's rendering of the new TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The new home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers is a 50,000 seat, open-air, horseshoe style stadium. Since the stadium has yet to host its first game it will not be included in this list.
10. Memorial Stadium—Indiana Hoosiers
The picture on the left is an artist's rendering of what Memorial Stadium will look like when the Hoosiers kick-off 2009.
The University is spending nearly $55 million on facility enhancements including the stadium's North Endzone Project.
This new 100,000-square-foot facility will transform Memorial Stadium into a horseshoe layout connecting the East and West stands, complete with a new seating bowl and outdoor club area. The stadium will now seat just under 60,000.
Congrats IU, but a new closed end zone will only make the stadium look more pitiful when no one shows up.
Of course, when Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, or Purdue come to town you will be able to see the new stadium filled to the brim with crazy fans giving their team all the support they can muster.
Who cares that they will be rooting against the Hoosiers?
9. Ryan Field—Northwestern Wildcats
Ryan Field is 83 years old and it looks it.
There is some decent tailgating in Evanston and the team is on the upswing, but the stadium holds less than 50,000.
Like Indiana, Northwestern has trouble claiming a true home field advantage, especially when the teams with huge fan bases come to play.
Night games at Ryan Field can get pretty raucous, but those are few and far between and the stadium configuration isn't great for sound.
I also find it hard to get intimidated at any stadium where fans jingle their keys in an effort to intimidate. Just seems weak.
8. Ross-Ade Stadium—Purdue Boilermakers
Ross-ade Stadium would be much higher on this list if the team was any better. But I must play by the rules I created and at least in 2009, Ross-ade just won't be intimidating because the team probably won't be a threat.
Historically, Ross-ade has provided a significant home-field advantage for the Boilermakers. From 1997 to 2007, the Boilermakers posted a 52-18 record (.743) at home.
Boiler fans are loyal and there are very few things that are more annoying to opposing fans than the "Boiler Up" chant that the Purdue faithful seem compelled to yell incessantly.
Until the team improves on the field though, the intimidation factor just doesn't exist.
7. Spartan Stadium—Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans get credit for trying.
I attended a Michigan State-Ohio State game about 10 years ago and the stadium had more scarlet and gray than green and white. Granted, the Spartans weren't particularly good that season, but it was still somewhat disheartening to see.
East Lansing provides a good but not spectacular game-day experience and the intimidation factor has been lacking for more than a few years.
That being said, the Spartans are making strides on the field and their fans are following suit. Since Mark Dantonio's arrival the student section has become bigger and rowdier and Spartan fans are now the majority at all home games.
There is still room for improvement, but if the Spartans continue to win on the field then Spartan Stadium could make a climb up the toughness ladder.
6. Memorial Stadium—Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois's Memorial Stadium is another Big Ten stadium that has recently undergone renovation and expansion, but when you attract about 55,000 fans a game during a Rose Bowl season, you have a long way to go before you can declare yourself a big time Big Ten program.
Illinois actually has the fan base to make Memorial Stadium a hostile environment when they want it to be. Two seasons ago, Illinois fans showed their ability to make some noise with upset wins over No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 21 Penn State at home.
Unfortunately, those were the only times they made a difference in the past five years. More often than not, the stadium has been a stomping ground for ranked opponents.
With the relocation of the student section into the north end zone since the last renovation of Memorial Stadium, the Illinois athletic department also relocated the main source of crowd noise and isolated it into one section of the stadium.
The relocation also affected the student’s influence when the teams are playing at the opposite end of the stadium, making it hard on them to see the plays as well as project their sound to that end of the stadium.
If Illinois can ever maintain success on the gridiron, fans will start to flock to Illini games. Remember this is not Indiana. Illinois is actually rich in history and football tradition and fans are simply waiting for a reason to enjoy fall Saturdays again.
5. Michigan Stadium—Michigan Wolverines
The Big House is one of the largest stadiums in the world and now that the latest renovation and construction project is done, the stadium is the United States' largest.
But for all of its charm, Michigan Stadium just isn't one of the most intimidating stadiums in college football.
It's no one's fault—the crowds are huge and into the game—but the design of the stadium is so open that it never gets thunderously loud on the field.
A lot of fans hope the new stadium addition keeps more sound in the stadium and increases the noise level, but how big of a difference could it really make?
4. Camp Randall Stadium—Wisconsin Badgers
As the fourth oldest stadium in the nation, it is a miracle Camp Randall has not crumbled apart yet, especially when 50,000 fans "Jump Around," literally shaking the stands beneath you.
If you have never experienced this phenomena, count yourself lucky. It is frightening to say the least. Add that to Badger fans notorious for their alcohol consumption prior to the game and you have a sure fire way to amp up crowd noise.
Now imagine 80,000 of those fans decked out in Badger red amassed together in Camp Randall with one unifying purpose, to cheer their Badgers on to victory.
Coaches and players interviewed over the years have repeatedly praised Camp Randall as one of the toughest home environments to play in not only in the Big Ten, but in the nation.
Maybe due to the aforementioned alcohol consumption, one of the more popular chants at Camp Randall involves the student section. The left half of the student section will yell “F--- you,” which prompts the right half to respond with “Eat S---.”
Childish and a tad unnecessary in providing home support, but tradition is tradition no matter how crude and pointless.
3. Kinnick Stadium—Iowa Hawkeyes
If you are an opposing team and you have to play at Iowa, take a second look at the kickoff time and pray it isn’t a night game. If you thought Kinnick is loud in the day, it is like a hornets nest at night.
Teams often go into an Iowa game ranked and return home defeated. In fact, eight ranked teams have ventured into Iowa City in the past seven years. Six of them took their charter flights back home having lost to the Hawkeyes.
The only teams to make it out during that span were the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes and the No. 16 ranked Badgers. Both losses came in 2006 when the Hawkeyes finished 6-6.
The four sided venue is an architectural marvel as it takes the traditional bowl layout of a stadium and transforms it into a box.
Not only does the layout create a suffocating environment for visiting teams as fans are literally right next to you on all sides of the field, but aids in Iowa’s famous "I-O-W-A" cheer where each section repeats their letter in succession.
Then there are the famous pink locker rooms.
I'm not just talking about pink paint on the walls, lockers, and benches. The entire visiting team’s locker room is completely decorated in pink, including the urinals.
Credit legendary Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry for the idea. He learned that pink suppresses aggressive and hostile behavior during his years studying psychology at Baylor University.
2. Beaver Stadium—Penn State Nittany Lions
Beaver Stadium keeps growing and growing and now has the second largest seating capacity in the nation behind Michigan.
The stadium is an impressive facility that sits out in the middle of nowhere and aesthetically it sort of resembles a large erector set.
Even though the student body only has 34,000 undergraduate students, the Nittany Lions still regularly play in front of nearly 110,000 fans every home game.
If your team is playing at Beaver Stadium be prepared for a large, raucous student section that is conditioned to stand and scream at the top of their lungs the entire game.
If your team is playing at Beaver Stadium at night be prepared for 110,000 rabid Lions fans—clad all in white—standing and screaming at the top of their lungs the entire game.
I am one of those lucky few who experienced the very first "White Out" in 2005 when Ohio State came to Happy Valley. The spectacle was amazing, the noise was deafening, and when the Lions realized they were going to win the game I actually felt the place shake.
As I mentioned before, a shaking stadium is quite a frightening thing.
Add to that the chants of "We are...Penn State" and the subsequent "Thank You...You're Welcome," as well as the incessant and annoying Lion's roar and the intimidation factor just gets worse.
If all the games in Happy Valley were played after the sun went down Beaver Stadium would be the hands down winner, but since the majority of games are during the day, Beaver Stadium ranks a close second.
1. Ohio Stadium—Ohio State Buckeyes
There is no tougher venue in the Big Ten conference than the Old Horseshoe.
If you play the Buckeyes at the 'Shoe, all bets are on a loss. If the crowd noise doesn’t affect your team, then the competitive Buckeye squads will.
When you win 38 games out of the 42 played in the last six seasons, including four straight Big Ten Championship seasons, it is hard to find an empty seat in the house.
That’s actually saying a lot considering the 'Shoe is the fourth largest collegiate stadium in the nation with an official capacity of 102,329 which has been shattered each of the past six seasons.
Now imagine this colossal monument to college football filled to the brim with scarlet clad Buckeye fans. The mere idea can send shivers down your back if you’re the visiting team.
Ohio State continues to disperse its students around the stadium rather than embracing the ’student section’ that many stadiums have come to appreciate as an asset to creating a home field environment.
But on the other hand, by dispersing the students into the rest of the stadium, the source of noise in the venue is not isolated to a specific student section like in most places and the rest of the 'Shoe is filled with equally rabid Buckeye fans.
The result is that the entire venue is deafening when the crowd gets into it and since the horseshoe has been enclosed, the noise has no where else to go but on the field.
Speaking of those rabid Buckeye fans, the Country's largest university also boasts one of the largest fan bases in all of college sports. Known for being raucous and boisterous, Buckeyes die-hards are always difficult to deal with.
The overwhelmingly large campus full of proud Buckeyes, the miles of tailgating parties, the continuous chanting of OH-IO, and "The Best Damn Band in the Land" making their entrance down the ramp in the north end zone all contribute to the game-day mania that surrounds Ohio State Football.
And make Ohio Stadium the Big Ten's Toughest Stadium to play in for 2009.