State of the Stadiums: the Big Ten

Having grown up in Ohio, I’m an unapologetic Big Ten fan. I think it’s the best football product out there. Nothing beats a game played in the snow in late November and Ohio State vs Michigan is the best rivalry in sports. They’ve also got the three largest stadiums in the United States, so there’s that.

Granted, if you comb through my list of my favorite football stadiums (so far), you won’t find many Big Ten venues. I believe they’re all about their environment– from Penn State to Wisconsin and Iowa– they just don’t quite stack up empty to SEC stadiums. As of the writing of this post, I’m still missing two (Nebraska and Rutgers), so here’s my list of the 12 other Big Ten venues.

Michigan Stadium

Even though I was born and raised a diehard Buckeye fan, Ann Arbor is a special place. I’ve seen two games in the Big House, and both times have been intoxicating. Without fans, Michigan Stadium is a marvel; it’s the largest stadium in the United States (107,601) and there’s so much history in the building.

It’s so big that it doesn’t even have a concourse as a part of the stadium– the “concourse” is basically just an area fenced in outside the bowl with ramps to the seats. With the amount of fans that are packed inside on a Saturday in the fall, that’s about the only way anyone can traverse the stadium. Michigan Stadium doesn’t look that big from the outside because a majority of it sits in the ground and the size of it isn’t evident until you first break through the ramp.

A minor, but really great detail, is the brick that surrounds the field up the side of the stands. The SEC has hedges and most other stadiums plaster it with advertisements or just leave it concrete, but the red brick (that matches the outside) is a really nice touch that gives it more class. There’s nothing bad that can be said about Michigan Stadium.

Grade: A+

Beaver Stadium

I can’t possibly be fair with Beaver Stadium since the photo above is all I got to see of the place during my visit. Normally, the Penn State All Sports Museum is open and offers a look inside the bowl, but it was closed due to the pandemic. It may be the most industrial looking stadium I’ve ever seen– definitely not renovated and built around the same time as the other historic stadiums (it was built 40 years later than many Big Ten and SEC venues).

Add this one to the list of Top 5 Stadiums I want to visit for a game.

Grade: N/A

Ohio Stadium

This is flat out my favorite stadium and it’s unlikely that it’ll ever be passed (in fact, I know it won’t). Strip away all 104,944 fans and the traditions of Ohio State football, and all you’re left with is the third largest stadium in the US that’s the only FBS one listed on the National Historic Register. It’s also got a famous atrium with gorgeous art and stained glass. It’s so famous that, despite being far from the first, it holds the name “The Horseshoe.”

It’s a colossal venue that towers over almost any other stadium and makes the field look miniscule. To get the real feel of the stadium, though, you’d have to visit on a game day. A Football Saturday in Columbus has to be near the top of every sports fan’s bucket list (I’d make a case for it being number one). There’s not a lot I need to say– the stadium speaks for itself.

Grade: A+

Camp Randall Stadium

Similarly to Beaver Stadium, I didn’t actually get to see the inside of Camp Randall. Frustratingly, it was also under construction and I couldn’t get anywhere near what would be considered a “good photo.” The university gives tours on weekdays until 4:30pm, and I showed up at 5:00pm.

The stadium itself is buried in buildings and sits right in the middle of downtown Madison, making traveling around it really difficult. I’ll reserve judgement until I can sit in the stands.

Grade: N/A

Spartan Stadium

On a bright and beautiful day (as State fans say, It’s a Beautiful Day for Football), Spartan Stadium is as good a place to watch a game as any. The stadium is beyond clean, even on game day, and the stands sit right on top of the action. That’s worth noting because the stands were first constructed in 1923, so someone had the wherewithal to bump them closer before totally closing the stadium (likely in the 1940s-1960s).

The wall up the stands is unusually high off the turf, which makes the playing surface feel boxed-in. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation. There’s not much remarkable about the venue itself, but it’s generally a pleasing place.

Grade: B

Kinnick Stadium

It may not be a popular opinion, but I think Kinnick Stadium is a masterpiece. It’s most striking feature is the children’s hospital that rises high above the sideline, which has brought up the coolest tradition in college football (the Iowa Wave). The stands are fairly close to the action and the outside of the stadium has plenty of plaques with history and stories on it.

The only negatives are, one, it’s beyond locked down because, two, it’s in a very dense urban environment. It’s got a little of every other Big Ten stadium in it: the scoreboard looks a lot like Ohio Stadium’s, the brick exterior is reminiscent of Michigan Stadium, it’s press box looks a lot like Camp Randall Stadium, and its bowl shape looks a lot like Beaver Stadium.

Grade: B

Memorial Stadium (Champaign)

It may not be the most notorious place for a game day, but Illinois’ Memorial Stadium is one of the most historical venues in the country. The upper decks and student section stands are likely original (you can see that) and the memorial columns are one of the coolest features of any stadium anywhere. It helps that the stadium is fairly accessible to the public, too.

The press box is large for the size of the stadium. The away stands’ lower deck sits below the upper deck with a pretty significant overhang which I would usually be all about, but the view is pretty obstructed near the top. There’s a statue of Red Grange outside the home stands and there’s a new tailgating/fan area of green grass named “Grange Grove.” I really like the architecture of this one.

However, they try to mask having a winding ramp by putting them inside (the structures on either side of the press box with columns). I called these areas the “aviary” because there’s a glass top to it and there’s colonies of pigeons living in there. Getting around– especially up to the upper decks and back– isn’t the most straightforward, either.

Grade: B–

Ross-Ade Stadium

Talk about press box size compared to stands size– the box almost doubles the size of the place (that and the huge video board in the open end zone). Ross-Ade was built out rather than up to have one uniform bowl rather than multiple decks, which isn’t ideal because it sacrifices a good view.

I’ve had the benefit of being to Purdue for both a game and not a game, and the game day experience really adds to the place. Some stadiums you can appreciate even without fans, but Ross-Ade Stadium really needs a game in it to be worth note. The stands are also a funny color of washed out yellow and brown, maybe? It might be a charcoal grey and gold, but it’s sunwashed and doesn’t really hold up.

I’ll always have a nostalgic love for this place since it was what started Road to CFB and was my first college football game outside of my college of Bowling Green. However, after 74 other stadiums, Ross-Ade is just fine.

Grade: C–

Indiana Memorial Stadium

When I visited Indiana Memorial Stadium, it was undergoing its latest renovation which closed the bowl and really made it look sharp. I’ll have to revisit to see the updated stadium. The end zone shown in the above picture is really unique and makes it look like a campus building– something that’s usually reserved for the outside of the venue. The classic script “Indiana” graphic and the locker room entrance is another nice touch.

For being a really nondescript football program and unknown college town, Indiana Memorial Stadium really sets a standard. Indiana’s campus is incredible, too, for anyone in the area– it’s worth a walk around (especially the student union). There’s a weird red clay ring around the field you can see that’s a bit out of place, but it’s passable.

The stadium also opted for one giant bowl, though the concourse is split in two levels, but it’s built really vertically. Good for the view, bad for those who need to walk up 20 rows to get to their seat; it’s a real workout.

Grade: B– (probably better with the renovation)

Maryland Stadium

Maryland Stadium is buried in the ground and in buildings, making it hard to get a grasp of what it looks like. The majority of what can be seen is the enormous press box that really secludes it. The Gossett Football Team House (shown) is a state-of-the-art football facility for an otherwise fine stadium. The opposite end zone has a nice wide concourse, but the surrounding sidewalks are pretty cramped.

Google Maps is also way off on where you need to be to get to the place, so when GPSing, get to campus and just follow the roads manually (campus is beautiful, though, so check that out, too). Don’t worry about getting inside on a non-game day, there’s signs everywhere saying it’s not accessible to the public and it’s very locked.

Grade: C

TCF Bank Stadium

TCF Bank Stadium is one of just two Big Ten facilities built after 1960 and the only one built since 1994. There’s a clear difference between it and the other Big Ten stadiums, even ones of similar size. It’s coolest feature is MINNESOTA colored into the stands with the M logo in the lower bowl. When it’s not buried under a foot of snow, TCF Bank Stadium is one of the more colorful stadiums in the league.

The outside concourse is surrounded by columns and endless ticket counters– seriously, it feels like one of the longest walks in college football. Minneapolis frequently dips to –10ºF, so that makes walks outside feel even longer. Also a strange note about the venue, it’s at a fork in the road. I haven’t yet seen another like it.

Grade: B

Ryan Field

Ryan Field has a lot of unique features, including it’s flowing, wavy shape. It feels ancient, but it’s not even in the top five oldest in the Big Ten. That’s due to the maze of a concourse that’s equally confusing as it is decrepit. The south end zone seats feel temporary even though they’re not. They also don’t offer a very good view (as shown in the photo). The lighting is very temporary– they’re seriously held up by cranes.

It’s not all bad, though. The history and gothic architecture give the place character and the north end zone building ties it into campus. It also sits on Lake Michigan, which on a good day, is as beautiful as anywhere. Evanston is far enough north of Chicago where traffic congestion isn’t really an issue and Ryan Field sits in the middle of a wealthy area with professor’s houses and large oak trees.

The press box, though, is dwarfed by the stands (that only sit just over 47,000) and looks like it hasn’t been touched since the early 1980.

Grade: D

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