State of the Stadiums: the Big 12

This year, I was able to finish the Big 12 with stadium visits– my first complete conference. With that, I feel confident in ranking the stadiums and giving them fair grades. Granted, I haven’t been to a game at all ten yet, so this is based on solely on the venue.

DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium

I can count on one hand the amount of stadiums that have completely trapped me in a moment and made me, out loud, say “wow.” DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium is one of those stadiums.

The sheer size of this place in unbelievable. The upper deck, where I was seated, is so high up that I was able to see lightning strikes over San Marcos (over 30 miles away); it honestly made me dizzy up there. The south end zone (pictured) is open, but should it ever be enclosed like the north end zone, DKR could seat 150,000 easily. It’s such a big stadium that it lacks a notable press box (that’s buried underneath one of the upper decks).

From the outside, this stadium is huge– don’t get me wrong. But until you walk inside, you won’t really understand the scale of this place. The entire lower bowl is below street level, adding another three or so stories to the height of this place. There may not be a bigger stadium in the world than this one. The mantra holds true: Everything’s bigger in Texas.

Grade: A

Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

Aside from being an impressive stadium, Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is one of the most tradition-rich facilities in the country. Heisman row (to the right of the stadium in the photo above) features the seven winners of the Heisman trophy (as of the time of visit, five were there, missing Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray). Everything about Oklahoma spells pageantry– from the team parade to the Berry Switzer Center, it has it all.

The south end zone complex (Berry Switzer Center) is new and the centerpiece of the stadium, complete with incredible architecture and a sports museum. The only fault to this place is a hilariously outdated press box that may be to preserve some history in the facility.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better game day in the country than in Norman, Oklahoma. The fans are incredibly passionate and Oklahoma boasts one of the best sets of traditions in the world (from Boomer Sooner to the Sooner Schooner). Add all that to a world-class facility, and that’s what Oklahoma’s all about.

Grade: A

Jack Trice Stadium

Jack Trice Stadium might be the most underrated stadium in the country; it’s unique, colorful, and efficient. For non-game day visitors, there’s free parking at the Reiman Gardens (it shares a parking lot with Jack Trice). One of the gates near the south end zone was open thanks to some work being done on the stadium, and I got some cool access to this stadium.

There’s a handful of stadiums in the country I’m struck by for reasons I can’t put to words (aka, I have no idea why). Those include Faurot Field (Mizzou), Jordan-Hare Stadium (Auburn), and Jack Trice Stadium. So, getting inside this one was especially exciting for me. My favorite part of the stadium is the north end zone video board that looks like a highway sign– there’s nothing else like it in college football.

Iowa State has one of the more beautiful stadiums from the outside I’ve seen, which I definitely didn’t expect coming into this one. The lawns are beautifully manicured and the south end zone complex is modern. Catch it on a nice day like I did, and it’ll be one of your favorite facilities, too.

Grade: A-

Jones AT&T Stadium

Speaking of unique facilities, Texas Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium has one of the coolest features of any stadium in the country: the block T logo (pictured). The south end zone complex actually isn’t an end zone complex at all; it’s a totally separate building that you can walk between it and the stadium. I’ll be up front: I’m a partial Texas Tech fan, so this one holds a special place in my heart.

Fan bias aside, visit Lubbock on a game day when they host Oklahoma or Texas, and you’ll get one of the best stadium environments in the country. Despite Tech being a perennial non-contender (even though they had Patrick freaking Mahomes), Tech fans show up in droves and cheer for their team as loud as anyone. The tradition of night game blackouts is one worth noting, too.

Jones AT&T was built before the “up, not out” style that’s so popular among the best modern stadiums today, so fans in the upper row might not have the best seats in the house. Other stadiums to follow the “out, not up” model include Michigan and Purdue. Also, for being named after a cell carrier, service inside the stadium was spotty.

Despite my expectations for Lubbock, Texas, this stadium is situated right off a busy highway (State Highway 82) and the city itself is pretty bustling. If you catch a night game or go anytime after early October, bring a jacket; it might be in Texas, but the panhandle gets cold. Prepare right, and Texas Tech might give you one of the best game day experiences you could ask for.

Grade: B+

Boone Pickens Stadium

There’s no real discernible reason as to why, but I’ve always had Boone Pickens Stadium near the top of my wishlist/favorites list. There’s just no other stadium that quite feels like it in the country. Maybe it’s the secludedness of it (in both Stillwater and inside the bowl). It might also be due to the press box and suites the surround the entire top of the stadium.

The east end zone complex is actually Oklahoma State’s basketball arena and the club seats are accessible through the building (just under the brand new scoreboard). The concourses are also unique, detailed with gold plating and marble with plenty of easter eggs littered throughout. Take your time while walking through– be it full or empty– and check out all the cool details.

No matter where you sit at Boone Pickens Stadium, you have a great view of the action. It seats over 60,000, but the feel is really intimate. Outside of just the venue, Oklahoma State has some of the most killer jersey combinations regardless of sport, so that helps.

Grade: A-

Milan Puskar Stadium

This is definitely a stadium better enjoyed full than empty. West Virginia has one of my favorite traditions in all of college football (“Country Roads”). I was able to get into Milan Puskar Stadium as the team broke for lunch during camp and I think of it as the largest Group of Five stadium in the country despite it being in the Big XII. The stands and the layout just look like a 60,000-seat Sun Belt stadium.

Morgantown, West Virginia, isn’t the town you want to be driving through when it rains or snows. Campus is fell of steep hills and if you hit some wet paint, your car might not make it up unless you have four wheel drive. The other notable thing about Milan Puskar Stadium is that it shares a giant parking lot with a hospital, giving plenty of parking for game days.

Grade: C–

Kansas Memorial Stadium

Kansas has a football stadium, that’s about it.

Kidding, but really, there’s not a whole lot to see at this one. The open horseshoe is “closed” in by a set of temporary stands (not pictured). The stands sit way too far away from the field, which indicates to me there used to be a track surrounding the field back in the day. There’s not a whole lot of character to it, with standard grey bleachers and just a trim of color.

It doesn’t sit in a particularly convenient part of campus (which is surprisingly busy and has lots of trees). I visited the stadium in mid-August and there was still objects and trash in the stands from the season prior– eight months earlier.

Grade: D–

Bill Snyder Family Stadium

It was under construction, but Bill Snyder Family Stadium is a great facility. From the dusty concrete color to the stands’ proximity to the field, I just like everything about this one. The highlight of the venue is the large and sleek press box (pictured). Since visiting, I’ve seen photos of the new suites and it really pulls the place together.

The concourses are wide enough to fit the capacity of the stadium and then some (a real issue with older stadiums like Ohio State and Georgia). Even the upper deck doesn’t make you feel like you’re too far away from the action, which comes with the quaint 50,000 seats.

Grade: B

McLane Stadium

McLane is the newest addition to the Big XII and it’s immediately evident. Instead of being built from a cookie cutter template like most older stadiums, this one has a lot of character. Though it’s the second smallest Big XII stadium (and one of the smallest Power Five ones), the layout makes it feel much bigger. Gone are hulking levels and instead fans sit closer to the action with a multi-tiered layout.

Baylor’s campus is beautiful, and this venue is no exception. It sits right on the Brazos river, which can be seen out the open end zone. One criticism, though, is the lower bowl gets no airflow which is a major problem in September in Central Texas. There’s no winding ramps in this one, just wide open stair cases that give everyone inside plenty of room to move around. I’m also a big fan of overhangs seen in places like Washington and here.

Baylor has a really underrated game day and I’d recommend anyone experience it if they are near Waco on a football Saturday. Just come way before and leave way later and avoid i-35 at rush hour at all costs.

Grade: B+

Amon G. Carter Stadium

The sideline that’s photoed above looks a whole lot different after January 2020, when TCU did a major renovation and added suites. The entire east side of the stadium got a building added on and it’s really spectacular. In fact, it was such a major project that it was under way when I was here in 2017 (you can see a crane in the photo). The stadium is so much better off with it, too. It’s a masterpiece.

The rest of the stadium is pleasing and provides plenty of great views. It’s also one of the few I’ve been to that puts box seats in the lower bowl (you can see what those look like in the photo, too). The stadium is usually open at all times and TCU’s campus, though small, is worth a visit. Next door to Amon G. Carter Stadium is the basketball arena and a sports museum that’s also open to the public.

Though low in capacity, the stadium doesn’t feel overly small and is just right for the level of football the Horned Frogs play.

Grade: B+ (maybe an A with the new reno)

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