College Football 2011: The 25 Worst College Football Stadium Experiences

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2011

College Football 2011: The 25 Worst College Football Stadium Experiences

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    When it comes to big-time college football games, home-field advantage can be such an important factor that even the oddsmakers in Vegas take into account who is playing in the friendly confines of their home stadium.

    College football has a home-field advantage unmatched by any other sport. Some games draw in excess of 100,000 fans, and almost no one in the stadium is a casual observer. Every man, woman, and child present has a deep-seated bias and they are unable to be dissuaded from their partisan cheering.

    Add to that cheerleaders, marching bands, mascots, and all the rest of the pomp and pageantry of college football, and you have an experience that professional sports simply cannot match.

    But what about the schools where home-field advantage doesn't mean quite as much? Not every team can play in the Big Ten (which had three teams average over 100,000 fans per game, and also captured the top three spots int he nation based on average). What about stadiums that are half empty on Saturdays?

    Sadly, there are some teams that simply don't have much of a home-field advantage to speak of.

    Here's a rundown of the 25 worst college football stadium experiences.

No. 25: Northwestern

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    Ryan Field at Northwestern edges onto the list at 25. An definite outlier in the Big Ten, Northwestern has consistently drawn small, quiet crowds of Northwestern fans.

    Northwestern typically draws well below Ryan Field's capacity of 49,256. But the Wildcats only make No. 25 because 2010 was a much better year than 2009, both in terms of on-the-field performance and performance at the turnstiles.

    In fact, 2010 saw Northwestern post the second-highest increase in terms of average attendance over 2009: 12,259 more fans attended each game in 2010 than in 2009.

    Still, even with such an increase, the Wildcats only averaged 36,449 fans per game in 2010. And anyone who has attended a Northwestern football game will tell you that a good number of those fans are not cheering for the Purple and While.

    Ryan Field is one of the quieter venues in college football, and is certainly one of the quietest in the Big Ten.

No. 24: Washington State

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    Considering the Cougar fan base seems to be present across the entire nation, and they can get at least one person to the site of every broadcast of ESPN's College Gameday, you'd think they could fill their small stadium every Saturday, too.

    But they can't.

    Not only does WSU have a pretty small stadium (35,117), but their average attendance can't even come close to packing the place (24,532).

No. 23: Memphis

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    Memphis is a great example of why on-campus sites should always be preferred.

    The Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (62,380) isn't far from the campus. But when your team isn't the greatest, and they're not playing on campus, it might be difficult to convince 62,000 people to show up at your games.

    The fact that 23,918 people, on average, make it into the Liberty Bowl for home games is actually pretty decent, considering the factors mentioned. That's why Memphis isn't higher on this list.

    Plus, the way the stadium is designed, there are some fans so far away from the action, it's a wonder they can tell who has the ball.  Who wants to sit in row 143 anyway?

No. 22: Southern Methodist

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    SMU's lack of an exciting football atmosphere is purely of their own making.

    The NCAA's death penalty in the 80s did more than destroy a national powerhouse program, it killed any excitement about that program.

    The lack of excitement continues today, two-and-a-half decades later.

    SMU draws an average of 23,515 fans to home games. Their stadium holds 32,000. Perhaps more fans would attend and those attending would be more excited if SMU acknowledged and recognized some of the great players of their past.

    While it's understandable why SMU would shy away from some of the greats that were playing during the height of the "pay-for-play" scandal, SMU shouldn't blame those players. SMU shouldn't treat them as pariahs.

    SMU should make them a part of today's program. SMU should try to recapture its former glory in the right way. Build the program back into a proud, winning program, and the alumni, students, and fans will turn SMU back into a great place to play college football.

No. 21: Texas-El Paso

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    UTEP plays at the Sun Bowl stadium. It's a nice stadium, with nice amenities, and is designed purely as a college football stadium. There's no upper bowl, and the stands are relatively close to the action.

    Still, the Miners can't seem to get fans to show up to the games.

    Sun Bowl Stadium is relatively small (compared to the big boys in the FBS), seating 52,000. You'd think an on campus venue would at least be close to full on most Saturdays. But UTEP comes in with slightly more than 29,000 fans per game.

    Leaving more than 20,000 seats vacant in a 52,000 seat stadium isn't going to add to the environment on game day.

    Add that to a raging drug war a few miles away, and it's no wonder no one wants to sit out in the open.

No. 20: San Diego State

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    SDSU comes in at No. 20, and is the first on the list that plays in an expansive NFL stadium while drawing an average crowd that doesn't even fill the place half full.

    Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, home of the NFL's Chargers, seats 70,561.

    San Diego State draws an average crowd of 34,133.

    Even if every single fan in attendance stood up and screamed at the top of their lungs, the stadium would still sound half empty.

    Qualcomm is a great venue for the NFL. If San Diego State drew 70,000 fans for home games, it would probably make a nice venue for the Aztecs. But the seats in NFL stadiums are typically a bit further from the field than they are in collegiate stadiums. Add that to the fact that the place is only half full, and you have a recipe for an atmosphere that lacks that certain college feel.

No. 19: Louisiana-Monroe

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    It must be hard being a school known for nothing related to football in the one of the most football crazed areas of the country.

    Still, there are enough football fans just hanging around that ULM can at least attract more than 20,000 to home games.

    How much do you want to bet that those 20,000 are there because they couldn't get LSU tickets?

No. 18: Central Michigan

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    Mount Pleasant, Michigan isn't on a mountain. And it's not really that pleasant. There are two things in Mount Pleasant: a casino and Central Michigan.

    CMU's football program is knwon for two things. They had a pretty good quarterback a few years ago, and it was Brian Kelly's first FBS coaching gig.

    Beyond that, Chippewa football games are an excuse to tailgate, and then go home. Not many tailgaters actually make it into the stadium. Or care about the game, for that matter.

    If you lived in Mount Pleasant, you'd probably just want to get wasted early in the morning, too.

No. 17: Southern California

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    No, it's not a joke. USC really is making this list, and comes in at No. 18.


    USC plays at the LA Memorial Colliseum. That stadium holds 93,607 fans.

    In 2010, USC averaged fewer than 80,000 fans.

    Sure, 2010 was a bad year for the Trojans, but 2010 was a bad year for Michigan, and they averaged over 111,000. In fact, Michigan averaged well in excess of 100,000 over the past three terrible years in Ann Arbor.

    So what is it, Trojan nation?

    A major football program in the nation's second largest city, which incidentally does not have a professional football team, should be able to find enough fans to fill the stadium.

    USC can't.

No. 16: UCLA

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    Since USC had their chops busted, it's only fair that UCLA gets a little smack, especially since their attendance is worse off than USC's.

    The Rose Bowl is one of those venues that can be defined simply as a "Temple of College Football."

    UCLA, like USC, is in the nation's second-largest city. LA has no professional football team. So why does UCLA draw so poorly?

    One can make the point that they draw worse than USC because they haven't been as successful. That's a valid point. But both of those teams should have no problem filling their respective venues.

    Because the Bruins draw fewer fans than USC in a stadium of comparable size in the same city, they make the list one spot ahead of the Trojans.

No. 15: Florida International

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    FIU's plans for the stadium can be described in one word: confusing.

    FIU's football program is relatively new. FIU draws an average crowd of less than 20,000 fans, barely making the NCAA's requirement of an average of 15,000 fans per year at least once in a two-year span.

    Yet FIU feels the need to expand their stadium to 45,000 seats.

    Why? So there are even more empty seats?  This isn't Field of Dreams.  Just because you build it, doesn't mean they'll come to watch FIU football.

    The only reason FIU isn't higher on this list is because their stands are almost on top of the field. That and the fact that newer stadiums typically improve the experience for fans in attendance (with newer restrooms, more concessions, and the like).

No. 14: Eastern Michigan

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    Another MAC school on our list is Eastern Michigan.

    EMU, in addition to being pretty darn bad at football, has the added problem of being just miles from the University of Michigan.

    EMU draws slightly more than 15,000 fans per game, at least making the NCAA's attendance requirements.

    The fact that their stadium is relatively new, nice, and comfortable keeps them from finding themselves any higher on this list.

No. 13: Kent State

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    Back to the MAC.

    Dix Stadium is home to the Kent State Golden Flashes.

    At least Kent State knows what is good for them. They are one of the few FBS schools to upgrade their stadium by lowering its capacity.

    Prior to 2003, Dix Stadium's seating capacity was over 30,000. Today, it stands at 20,500.

    The Golden Flashes still have a tough time filling all of the remaining seats, though.

    And Dix Stadium just

    Maybe we're starting to see a pattern with all of the MAC school appearing on the list?

No. 12: Vanderbilt

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    Coming it at No. 12 is our sole representative from the SEC.

    It should also be noted that with the renovations currently ongoing at Vanderbilt, it's likely that in a few years time, Vandy may not even appear on such a list. But the point should be made that before you add seats, you should probably try to fill the ones you already have.

    In the meantime, however, the Commodores are on our list.

    And for good reason.

    With one possible exception, Vandy fans haven't had too terribly much to cheer about recently.

    At least they get to see some really good teams from the SEC come in and roll over their Commodores.

No. 11: Utah State

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    Another half-full stadium makes our list, just missing the top 10.

    The Aggies of Utah State play in a half-empty Romney Stadium on Saturdays before an average crowd of 17,878.

    Those 17,000 hearty souls brave the freezing weather in Logan to watch their Aggies get beaten by the likes of Idaho, Louisiana Tech, and Wyoming.

    Who can blame people from staying home?

    You can sit in the warmth of your own living room and watch Utah or Boise State win.

No. 10: Louisiana-Lafayette

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    Since ULM made our list, it's only fair that their sister school and rival, ULL, makes the list.

    Especially since ULL's attendance was, believe it or not, worse off than ULM's.

    Lafayette managed an average of just 17,383 fans per home game in 2010.  If that wasn't bad enough, the Ragin' Cajuns treated those 17,000 fans to a 3-9 season.

    Sun Belt football isn't the greatest college football to begin with.  When you go 3-9 in the Sun Belt, it's a wonder anyone shows up at all.

    One good thing about Cajun Field, however, is it's layout.  The stands are close to the field on three sides, and the open end of the field is actually enclosed, like a bowl, giving it a more intimate atmosphere.

No. 9: Tulane

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    Tulane makes the list at No. 9.

    Tulane is another college football program that plays their games in an NFL venue.

    This particular venue, the Louisiana Superdome, seats nearly 70,000, yet the Green Wave manage to draw an average of 23,220.

    Having your stadium two-thirds empty for a football game usually makes any place seem on the quiet side.

    It probably doesn't help that Tulane is situated in the heart of SEC country, either.

No. 8: Western Kentucky

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    The newest member of the FBS makes our list with a small stadium and even smaller crowds.

    It's hard to generate much of a big-time college football feel in a stadium that holds 22,000 fans.

    It's even harder to do when that stadium is just over half full every Saturday.

    Perhaps WKU misunderstood their obligations when they applied to move from the FCS to the FBS. They need to average 15,000 fans per game. The Hilltoppers attract just 14,577 fans on any given Saturday to Houchens Industries L.T. Smith Stadium.

    Maybe the fact that WKU is a combined 4-32 since beginning a full FBS schedule in 2008—including a 2-32 mark against FBS teams—has something to do with the lack of enthusiasm over Hilltopper football.

    Seriously, what did WKU expect? A record of 2-32 will get you nothing but ridicule. And when you can't draw a bare-bones 15,000 fans to your games, maybe you were better off in the FCS.

No. 7: Florida Atlantic

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    Lockhart Stadium is one of the smallest stadiums in the FBS.  In fact, it's smaller than some FCS and even some Division II stadiums.

    I guess that's what you get when you use a stadium built to host high school football games. In fact, Lockhart Stadium is still used by two local high schools for some of their games.

    FAU is currently in the final stages of building their own stadium, located on FAU's Boca Raton campus. The new stadium will seat approximately 30,000 fans.

    While the new stadium is sure to be an upgrade from the current glorified high school stadium, the Owls still have trouble filling even that smaller venue.

    In 2010, FAU averaged 14,025 fans per game—yet another school on our list not meeting the NCAA's attendance requirements of an average of 15,000 fans.

No. 6: Western Michigan

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    Uh oh. Here's comes the MAC again.

    Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is home to the WMU Broncos. Unfortunately, it's not home to many fans.

    Waldo Stadium's open atmosphere, and lack of noisy fan base leads this MAC venue into the Top 10.

    Waldo Stadium also has an unusual orientation (SW-NE), with an open corner of the stadium pointed due west.

    This provides some unusual, and unpleasant sun angles late in the afternoon.

    Waldo Stadium crowds have never been much to write home about. In fact, the record crowd of 36,361 came in 2000 against Indiana State. I'm sure the Fighting Sycamores were a headline matchup in Kalamazoo, but I would think that the Bronco faithful would be more amped up about a visit from some other foes to visit Waldo Stadium, such as Indiana, Virginia, or Virginia Tech.

    WMU is another violator of the NCAA's attendance requirements, averaging 14,255 fans per home game in 2010.

No. 5: Rice

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    Pretty much everyone knows how bad Rice's attendance figures are.

    And we've all seen the comical pictures, such as the one at left, showing a nearly empty stadium.

    Football is king in Texas, and Rice, accordingly, built themselves a 70,000-seat stadium.

    Unfortunately, Rice football is not king in Texas. In fact, it's not even prince. Or duke. It's more like jester.

    Rice Stadium does, however, hold the distinction of having been the only on-campus college football venue that has hosted a Super Bowl (VIII).

    Rice has several disadvantages in attracting an exciting college football atmosphere. First, they're not the only college game in town, and they're certainly not the biggest college football name in the state. Secondly, with the NFL's return to Houston, there's Sunday football to attract the casual non-alumnus football fan.

No. 4: UAB

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    Poor UAB. It can't be easy being an off-shoot of the University of Alabama while trying to maintain the same level of football program.

    By all accounts, UAB is an incredible academic institution. In fact, Alabama's medical school moved from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham in the 1940's. Today, UAB actually outranks Alabama in several academic areas, including research activities.

    One area where UAB doesn't even come close to 'Bama is anything having to do with football.

    Legion Field, which seats over 71,500 fans, and was the former host of the annual Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama.

    Now used primarily as UAB's home stadium, the Blazers have a difficult time putting fans in the seats. In fact, the record attendance for a UAB game at Legion Field is just 44,669, in 2003.

    In 2010, UAB managed just 18,360 fans per game at Legion Field.

    Doing the math, the means UAB games only fill about a quarter of the stadium's seats.

    It's probably pretty easy to catch a nap during Blazer games.

No. 3: Buffalo

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    It's not looking good for the MAC.

    Yet another team from the Mid-American Conference makes out list.

    University of Buffalo Stadium has a seating capacity of just over 29,000.

    The Bulls made their return to the FBS in 1999 after a couple decades of rebuilding after the program was completely cancelled int he 1970s.

    Buffalo made a much-advertised "Run to Division I" in the 1990s, and part of that effort was the construction of the new stadium.

    While the stadium itself is one of the newest venues in the FBS, the game-day experience at a Bulls game is somehow lacking that college feel.

    It seems as if UB's reach outdistanced their grasp. In 2010, the Bulls struggled to draw 13,000 fans to home games.


No. 2: Akron

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    Akron comes in at No. 2 on our list, and they're also No. 2 on another list: lowest NCAA FBS attendance.

    The Zips managed just 10,185 fans at home games in 2010.

    How can they even claim to be a FBS program with those kind of numbers?

    If you have a 30,000 seat stadium, and you're only filling it a third full, you have some major issues with either your athletic marketing department, or worse, you program in general.

    At Akron, it's probably a bit of both.

    Perhaps the only thing keeping Akron out of the top spot is the fact that InfoCision Stadium is a brand new facility, and replaced the aging and run down Rubber Bowl.

No. 1: Ball State

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    Not surprisingly, the top spot goes to a MAC school.

    It's probably one of the only times the MAC is going to get a top ranking in anything. Maybe the entire conference should move to the FCS.

    Ball State gives lack of attendance a new meaning. In 2010, Ball State averaged a home crowd of a mere 8,947.

    To put that in perspective, Ball State's entire attendance for 2010 is less than half of a single Saturday's crowd at Michigan Stadium.

    Worse than that, 29 FCS teams had a higher average attendance.

    Worse still, 10 Division II teams had a higher average.

    It's a little surprising that there are more people who would rather see a game between FCS Arkansas-Pine Bluff and FCS Alcorn State or D-II Grand Valley State and D-II West Texas A&M than would watch FBS Ball State play any FBS school.

    Why is Ball State even a Division I-FBS school? They clearly don't deserve that destinction.

    For that, Ball State gets our top spot on the list of Worst College Football Stadium Experiences.