State of the Stadiums: the ACC

If you live around North Carolina, ACC stadiums are beyond accessible. Fortunately for college football travelers outside the region, the ACC is an easy conference to knock out thanks to the cluster of many of the stadiums. In just two dedicated trips, I managed to visit eight of them with the others coming at various times.

As of the publishing of this writeup, I’ve been to 11 of the 14 ACC stadiums (still missing: Florida State, Miami, Boston College). Three ACC stadiums are located within 20 minutes of each other (UNC, NC State, Duke) with another located just an 80 minutes away (Wake Forest). Boston College and Miami are less accessible, but most can be visited by taking a drive south through the eastern seaboard.

Clemson Memorial Stadium

Color me surprised– Clemson is one of the coolest football stadium experiences I’ve ever had. For years, the Tigers have terrorized my Ohio State Buckeyes (most recently in the College Football Playoff semifinal where OSU blew a 17-0 lead) and for that, I’ve really had a hatred for them. However, after finding my way into Clemson Memorial Stadium, I have a real appreciation for South Carolina’s Death Valley.

Clemson spends an obscene amount of money on its athletic facilities– including a state-of-the-art recruiting facility at the stadium (through the left tunnel in the above photo). The stadium is built vertically and is one of the few stadiums (Navy) who colorizes the team name in the bleachers. Howard’s Rock and the tradition of running down the hill is also one of the best in college football, so seeing that was pretty neat, as well.

The layout of the stadium is pleasing and makes a ton of sense (seriously, a lot of stadiums have some really bad layouts: Northwestern, Texas, Buffalo). Putting myself in a recruit’s shoes, it’d be hard to say no to Dabo Swinney and Clemson. The Tigers are the dominant brand in the area (in the entire state) and playing in front of a packed stadium would be intoxicating. There’s few stadiums that sit above this one on my wishlist of games to see.

The southwest end zone complex is new and beautiful, complete with a renovated tower and suite seats (see photo). It’s also the side with Clemson’s locker room, which I wasn’t lucky enough to see inside, and donor’s area. There’s few facilities in the country that rival this one.

Even outside of the ACC, there’s very few stadiums that I like more than Clemson Memorial Stadium. I’ll admit fault in that I may be biased toward this one since I was granted full access to it when I 100% did not think I’d ever make it in. However, many would likely agree with the evaluation of the place.

Grade: A+

Heinz Field

I’m absolutely not a fan of college football teams in NFL stadiums, but here we are. I’m also a Browns fan, so Heinz Field has a special place of hate in my heart. As a part of college, my major got to tour Heinz Field and other Pitt facilities, which included the locker room (pictured below). Aside from their annual rivalry game against Penn State, the Panthers rarely fill this stadium and should have their own stadium with a capacity around 45,000.

I do understand the necessity for shared stadiums in major metropolitan cities (the ones that share are located in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Miami, San Diego, and Tampa), but they still suck. I can’t help but feel like Pitt players feel like they’re renting their stadium. It lacks character and tradition, which are my favorite aspects of college football stadiums

Grade: D

Lane Stadium

During my 2020 Summer Road Trip, I raced against the setting sun and battled widespread thunderstorms to make Virginia Tech by dark. The above photo is pretty concrete evidence that I didn’t make it. And, at first, I thought I was completely S.O.L. by the time I hit Blacksburg. I had driven over 13 hours and 760 miles to get to Virginia Tech without checking what time the sun sets in Virginia. After a day filled with disappointment, my luck was about to change.

One service gate happened to be open and one door happened to lead to the field. I could hear a worker in the door just a foot away from the one I slipped through, meaning this adventure was both incognito and at risk of ending at any second. I had to use a bucket just to prop the door open so I wasn’t locked in the stadium (trust me, I checked the door before closing it). But there I was: on the field of Lane Stadium past dark. Thank God the lights in the press boxes were on.

Lane Stadium is home to one of the coolest and newest traditions in college football: Enter Sandman. Almost nobody outdoes Virginia Tech’s entrance for home games and even grainy YouTube videos gets the blood flowing. I could just see myself in the stadium on game day during that entrance, and thinking about it got me excited to be there. And to think, I was seconds away from giving up on this one.

It was dark and I didn’t get the grand tour of Lane Stadium, but the excitement got me in this one. I have nothing but amazing memories of this one (amended: I hear Lane Stadium is actually open to the public during the day, but it was way more fun sneaking in my way).

Grade: B+

Scott Stadium

Virginia’s a basketball school and there’s no arguments against that. It’s football team is usually pretty bad, but recent success has been notable behind star quarterback Bryce Perkins. Despite not being a focal point of the campus, the Cavaliers’ football stadium is downright gorgeous.

I couldn’t get in, thanks to repeated antics of Virginia Tech fans (they painted the VA Tech logo overtop Virginia’s logo at midfield more than once). However, I got a decent view of the bowl thanks to a northwest end zone fence. The columns and extended arbor in that end zone are one of the more unique features in the entire country.

Charlottesville has one of the most famous campuses in the country, especially in the fall (which I wasn’t lucky enough to be in town for). It’s definitely recommended to those passing through the area to make a pit stop at UVA to see the campus. Even though I wasn’t able to get in this time, Scott Stadium is one of the most underrated venues in the ACC.

Grade: B

Cardinal Stadium

There’s not much to say about this one, since I haven’t been in some years. Since I’ve visited, Cardinal Stadium changed their name (formerly, as pictured, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium) and built a complete end zone complex in that empty space behind me in the photo.

Grade: N/A

Carter-Finley Stadium

I can’t put my finger exactly on what it is about Carter-Finley Stadium, but I really like this place. It’s very NFL-esque and is just pleasing on the eyes. The press box might be NC State’s most notable feature, followed by the sea of red season ticket holder seats. It’s clean, makes sense, and straightforward.

NC State has a really nice campus and is all about their wolf statues, including this one pictured above; they even have one in the student union made out of legos (not pictured, but very much there). It’s one of the nicer campuses in the country, despite it not getting much national recognition.

Grade: B

Bobby Dodd Stadium

I didn’t try very hard to get into this one because it was a pitstop on a family vacation, but Bobby Dodd Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in the country. It’s so old that it’s also called “Historic Grant Field.” There’s not a whole lot to say about this stadium, since I really just stopped by for a photo, but it does have a gorgeous view of downtown Atlanta.

Funny story about this visit, though: just minutes after this photo was taken, I walked right past Paul Johnson, legendary head coach of the Yellow Jackets, who was taking a recruit around the place. To this day, I wonder who that recruit was and if he played for Georgia Tech.

Grade: N/A

Kenan Memorial Stadium

My visit to Kenan Memorial Stadium came between the Mitchell Trubisky years and the Mack Brown Part 2 years when the Tarheels were abysmal. This game, North Carolina whooped Western Carolina 65-10 and I didn’t stay through the final whistle. However, I got a good gist of what a UNC game day is like. Thanks to a connection, I got the full tour of the Kenan Football Center (large facility in photo above) and a sit down with the recruiting coordinator when I was trying to make it in the industry.

Because the Tarheels are sponsored by Jordan brand, their facilities and uniforms are top-tier despite the football team being streaky at best. The weight room, suites, and football offices were all brand new in 2017 when I visited. The end zone complex is administrative, athletic, and an entertainment space all at once and is suitable only for the wealthiest donors.

The stadium itself is a sleek concrete with plenty of carnival-style kiosks selling concessions around the concourse. The ramps up to upper levels are spaced differently than any other stadium I’ve been to, but the press boxes are slick. It’s unique, to say the least.

Grade: C+

Carrier Dome

I couldn’t have picked a worse time to visit the Carrier Dome. Despite having a game just days later, around the facility was undergoing a massive renovation and I couldn’t get anywhere near the place. The arena was much bigger than I expected and the top beams are a cool addition to an otherwise bland venue. It’s one of two indoor football stadiums in the FBS (UTSA), but this one is a necessity due to Syracuse being the snowiest campus in the United States.

Though I didn’t get to make it inside, I’m not much a fan of not college football-specific facilities, so I wasn’t too torn up about missing out on this one.

Syracuse does have a beautiful campus filled with art and sculptures, so I’d still recommend a visit. There’s nowhere in the world with better fall foliage so, to make your trip even better, stop by the last week of September/first week of October for some incredibly scenery.

Grade: D

Wallace Wade Stadium

The culture at Duke is evident from the second you arrive on campus; first of all, there’s no convenient or free parking anywhere. The campus is situated in a forest (unexpected) and signs are few and far between. When you do exit your car, people walking around won’t give you the time of day unless you’re wearing the Duke brand or look important. No offense to Duke fans, but it’s an elitest school.

That was never more clear than when I walked through an open gate on the east side of the stadium, only to be stopped by security. Both me and my dad asked if I could just grab a photo and leave, to which I was firmly told, no. the stadium was empty, and they were lucky they even caught me. But rules was rules, so we left.

There’s a nice vantage point just north of the stadium in which you can see the whole stadium from, which is what provided me with the above photo. The rest of Duke’s campus is worth visiting, especially Cameron Indoor. There’s a sports museum with some cool features there and admission is free. Just, don’t ask for any help.

Grade: C

Truist Field

Truist Field (shown as BB&T Field) is a really a gem despite it being the lowest capacity Power Five stadium in the country. Wake Forest’s entire campus is really a gem– situated among a forest and private university brick buildings. What really stands out about Truist Field is the press box, which nearly doubles the height of the stadium. A service gate happened to be open this day, and the service workers aren’t paid to tell us to leave.

One thing about Winston-Salem: don’t take the wrong way out of town. It gets very uncomfortable very quickly and we took the wrong way out. There’s a hill in the south end zone that gives a full view of the stadium without actually getting in the gates that is a popular spot for visitors. Overall, it’s a beautiful stadium despite it not being a household name.

Grade: B

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