State of the Stadiums: the SEC

The SEC is college football’s premiere conference when it comes to stadiums and grandeur. To take the mantra It Just Means More, rather than play on-field (though it does apply to that, too), the SEC puts their heart, soul, and money into their facilities. There’s very few other schools who can compete with the facilities (not to say there aren’t any).

To me, the SEC also has some of the best history of the sport. There’s an outstanding documentary through the SEC Network on the history of it all “Saturdays in the South: A History of SEC Football.” There’s plenty of features in their stadiums that are uniquely SEC– namely hedges. As of now, I’m missing just Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, so here’s the other 13.

Kyle Field

The real hype about Kyle Field and Texas A&M is in their game days. From the cadets to priding themselves with the largest and loudest student section in the country, Kyle Field is a magical place. It’s also one of just a handful of stadiums that’s made me genuinely dizzy in the nosebleeds (pictured).

The structure is massive. Like it and DKR-Texas Memorial (Texas), they’re the largest stadium in their respective conference and both seat over 100,000 spectators. But something about the way these places are built– straight up and above ground– make them feel bigger than all of the other 100,000+ seat stadiums.

Around the stadium is brick walking space (across from it is the student center) and plenty of statues and history. Be sure to take your time walking around, A&M has plenty of history. It’s a hike to the top– up a dozen flights of stairs– and, if you’re weary of heights like I am, don’t look down.

Grade: A

Neyland Stadium

Following the theme of history: Neyland Stadium shows Tennessee’s. The stadium hasn’t been updated with renovations that’s altered its appearance really at all. The most striking feature of Neyland, though, is the cavernous bowl that surrounds the field. Many stadiums look like structures, but this one looks like a meteor struck the ground and the Vols decided to play football in that crater.

It’s a hike anywhere up the stadium and you’ll to excuse the musty smell. Attached to the stadium is an educational hall (I’ll save you some time– you can’t access Neyland from there) that’s gotta be 100 years old. It’s cramped and dark and just not a welcoming building. In fact, most of Tennessee’s stadium is cramped. It might just be the least-open stadium I’ve ever been to– I’ve been in more open-air basketball arenas.

But all of the old and dirty is excused because of the history and tradition at Rocky Top. It’s one of my favorite stadiums I’ve been to.

Grade: A–

LSU Tiger Stadium

There’s three places that all vie for my favorite place to see a football game. Team bias removed, LSU might take the cake. From the tailgating and the colors to the noise, crowd, the passion, and product on the field; LSU is the complete package. The stadium itself is massive; you have to take multiple escalators to get to the upper decks. It’s also very spacious in the concourses for being one of the busiest facilities in the country.

The field is definitely the best part about the place. The tiger eye at midfield is iconic and I’m a sucker for the mismatched end zones and sidelines. There’s a reason it’s named Death Valley (the 2019 National Championship determined who’s the owner of that for now). It’s also one of the few stadiums in the country that features double-posted goals (that the team runs through in their intro).

Outside Tiger Stadium is Mike the Tiger’s pen that’s worthy of being featured in any major zoo. There’s very few places that contend with LSU for the top spot in the country to see a ballgame.

Grade: A+

Bryant-Denny Stadium

Alabama’s gone the opposite way of Tennessee and strives to have the most modern football stadium in the country. That’s a title the Tide might take, especially after their recent 2020 renovation. Bryant-Denny is a real marvel in the college football world with some of the coolest features surrounding the place of anywhere. Some of those features include the Walk of Champions, statues of every title-winning coach, and a variety of other cool easter eggs.

Inside the stadium, Bama has the classic SEC hedges and a brand new set of lower-bowl seats. They were also one of the first to switch to LED lights, which gives them the ability to put on some pretty cool shows with it. The script A logo is plastered everywhere and the stadium sits right across from the elegant Greek houses that Alabama is famous for. It’s state-of-the-art and a legendary place for a reason.

Grade: A

Sanford Stadium

Georgia’s Sanford Stadium has been a staple of college football for decades. Georgia is the one who can lay claim to being the first to “play between the hedges,” which was followed by Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. Since visiting, Georgia has redone the northwest end zone, including putting in new seats and updating the scoreboard.

Like Neyland, Sanford Stadium is cavernous and builds the lower bowl out before building up. The concourses are cramped, are winding, and create serious traffic jams– it’s a real issue at Georgia football games. The lower concourse is also just asphalt, which is cracked a patched. For being a premiere place to see college football, the stadium itself isn’t pristine.

However, the charm in Georgia is the fans and game environment. Athens is a top-tier college town with plenty of great bars and shops.

Grade: B+

Jordan-Hare Stadium

I’ll get this out of the way: I love Jordan-Hare Stadium. I can’t exactly piece together why, but it’s been a bucket list stadium for me for years. Auburn had the largest video board in college football (now eclipsed by Oregon) at over 10,000 square feet. The outside of the stadium is beautiful, too, marked with red brick and gold trim.

Just outside the stadium are statues of Auburn’s Heisman winners– Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan, and Cam Newton– along with John Heisman himself. The concourse is spacious and clean with sleek concrete and brick columns. The bowl is also kept clean and the stands don’t brown like other older stadiums tend to do.

Auburn is also a great town and a beautiful campus, so take your time around the city.

Grade: A

Williams-Brice Stadium

You wouldn’t know it, but Williams-Brice Stadium was built in 1934. The newer end zone complex (photoed) and clean look to it makes it look much newer. The most unique feature of the stadium is the light fixtures, shared with Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City Chiefs). The stories of “Willy Brice” and the shaking upper decks are certainly worth note.

Outside the stadium is one of the cooler traditions in college football– the tailgating train cars. Palm trees also scatter the campus and around the stadium despite it being far from the coast. It’s a really pretty stadium that perfectly matches the vibe of South Carolina.

Grade: B+

Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium

My time visiting wasn’t the best, as the stadium was undergoing it’s most recent massive renovation. Because of the construction zone, this was about the closest I was able to get. Fayetteville in general is a surprisingly scenic area of the country– fixed right in the Ozark Mountains. It’d be unfair for me to grade with the little of it I’ve seen.

Grade: N/A

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium

The Grove at Ole Miss is more famous than their football stadium, and it’s easy to see why. Vaught-Hemingway banks heavily on history and tradition (nothing wrong with that) but by itself isn’t the most spectacular facility in the SEC. What it does boast, though, is being the oldest stadium in the SEC and one of the oldest in the country.

Ole Miss is definitely worth a visit, but requires visitors to go way out of the way (Memphis is the closest major city over 2.5 hours away). Outside of game days, the famous Grove is just a shaded spot for students to hang out and do homework in. This’ll be another one to revisit when the grandeur of a game is in Oxford. Otherwise, it’s a bit bland.

Grade: C

Faurot Field

For being a fairly unremarkable football program, Faurot Field has a lot of charm to it. For one, it looks way bigger than its 61,620 capacity. The argyle end zone pattern is unique (and works really well with Mizzou’s colors) and the white rock M in the north end zone is one-of-a-kind. Behind the photo, Missouri has a large video screen, suites, and a beautiful football facility.

It’s another stadium that falls victim to trying to make a huge, single level rather than stacked decks, but it doesn’t hurt this stadium much. It’s spacious around the concourses and would be a great place to see a game at.

Grade: B+

Davis Wade Stadium

The game environment at Mississippi State is one of the best I’ve ever been to. The campus in Starkville is also one of the best in the country. Davis Wade Stadium doesn’t stack up with either of the other parts. This isn’t to take away from the great tailgating or the deep traditions at Mississippi State, but their stadium isn’t great.

The first and most obnoxious feature of it is the endless winding ramps (I hate these). Once you do get up to the upper deck, the concourse is closed-in and hasn’t been updated since the 1980s– minimum. This was just bad luck, but there was a half-eaten bird in the row behind me and the stadium was generally pretty dirty. The lower concourse was made up of uneven and cracked asphalt.

Visually, Davis Wade Stadium is easy on the eyes and the Junction is one of the cooler spaces in the country (complete with an awesome bulldog statue). The scoreboards are also a cool and unique feature of the stadium.

Grade: C

Kroger Field

Kroger Field (formerly Commonwealth Stadium) is the newest stadium in the SEC– built in 1973. It’s situated in beautiful Lexington, Kentucky, and sitting at the top gives you unbelievable views of fall foliage if you find yourself there in early October. Next to it is the football training facility, which is a modern facility (and open to fans on game day).

The south end zone features a cool fireworks rig that fires off after every touchdown. Kroger Field is also convenient, easy to traverse, and spacious (all good things). The press box has much to be desired, though. But even after seeing a game in Lexington, I have a hard time pointing out specific things about the stadium. Unremarkable is about the best word to sum this one up.

Grade: C

Vanderbilt Stadium

Aside from all the opposing fan takeovers, there’s not a whole lot special about Vanderbilt Stadium. The team is bad and fans aren’t terribly interested. Nashville is an incredible city– one of my favorites– but it lacks a good college football stadium.

Grade: D

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