Back in 2017, in the earliest days of Road to CFB, I stood on the sidelines of Dix Stadium. It was my first time traveling with the Bowling Green football team as a recruiting intern. BG bashed Kent State that day, 44-16, on Halloween night. Of course, I only got the on-field experience. So this year, I decided to return to a Kent State game day as non-worker to take in the sights and sounds.
I already wrote a love letter to Midweek MACtion. This year, I decided to finally take advantage of living in northeast Ohio and tour MAC schools in all their Tuesday and Wednesday night glory.
The MACtion Challenge
As wonderful a TV product MACtion is, it’s an uphill battle for the in-person experience. For one, it’s almost always bitter cold – after all, these are November nights in the Great Lakes region we’re talking. Four-hour contests begin at 7:00 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. (or 6/6:30 for NIU) and most people in attendance have work or class the next day. And because those same folks are at work/class all day leading up, there’s very little pregame fanfare.
Ultimately, it leads to mostly-empty stands filled with some students, parents of the players, and college football travelers. While MACtion is a brand of football I recommend all college football fans experience once, it’s not always the proper judgement of a school’s maximum potential for game day.
Unless you have a tailgate to get to, arrival an hour-fifteen before kickoff is plenty.
To make matters worse for Kent State, their team came into this game 1-8. Their lone win came over a middling FCS program and the Flashes were considered to be the worst team in the FBS, by many estimations.
There are lots of positives for a midweek game day at Dix Stadium. Concessions are cheap, nearby parking is free, Kent is a terrific college town, and there’s no bad seats in the house. The PA announcer is one of the better I’ve heard at this level of football, too.
When the Flashes take the field, it’s worth being in your seat for. Kent State’s marching band – who I got a taste of in the Wagon Wheel rivalry – puts on a good show with a signature block K pregame; they also play “Lift Every Voice And Sing” along with the National Anthem, a nice touch I haven’t seen else where. Many teams have pyrotechnics and fireworks for their team’s entrance, but Kent State’s where more in theme with their “Golden Flashes” mascot. For a small stadium, the theater is really well done.
However, once the game starts, most of the fan engagement disappears. As a sport management grad (and attending the game with someone still in the sports industry), I notice the little nuances of game day. And I had a hard time remembering in-game promos and between-the-whistle engagements. This night was focused mostly about the product on the field.
Of course, if you’re looking for the best Kent State game day experience, I’d recommend a September Saturday over a November Wednesday. At least, until the program starts to collect more wins.
Bowling Green 49, Kent State 19
This year’s team hashtag (or mantra, or brand) became more and more appropriate as the season went on. The Flashes underwent massive turnover as their previous head coach, Sean Lewis, left to join Deion Sanders at Colorado. Their two best receivers took Power Five offers in the transfer portal, their All-Conference running back transferred to a different MAC school, and their quarterback transferred up to start for UCLA. Kent State’s residency at the bottom of the league wasn’t unexpected.
So the bit “KentGRIT” was an appropriate stage-setter for players and fans alike – it would take grit to scrape out wins and put butts in seats. And for neutral fans (which I don’t happen to be, as an alumnus of Bowling Green), it takes grit to get through a 49-19 blowout. Because that’s what Bowling Green delivered.
After an opening-drive field goal by the Flashes, this game was all Bowling Green. Without star running back Terion Stewart, the Falcons marched up and down the field. Their only lull came right after halftime, where Kent State cut the lead to 28-13. But the drive to secure their second straight bowl game for the first time in nearly a decade (2014-15) proved to be too much on both sides of the ball. Like the Halloween 2017 night, Bowling Green walked out with a 30-point victory.
Kent State Football Game Day Grades
Stadium: D. The arc-shaped press box resonates around the stadium. It’s well-kept and easily navigable. However, metal bleachers makes this feel more like a high school stadium than a collegiate one. The rows on the home side – particularly in the supposed nicer chairback section – are simply too close together for a comfortable sit. Should the stands be packed to the gills, this could be a real problem.
Tradition: C. The Hall of Fame plaza in the north end zone is a nice touch. Kent State has a remarkable number of NFL Hall of Fame players like James Harrison, Julian Edelman, Jack Lambert, and Antonio Gates come through their program. They also put Joshua Cribbs and several other key contributors into the league. Hell, even Nick Saban played for the Flashes and subsequently coached for the them in the 1970s. The program tradition runs DEEP, although the game day traditions are scant.
Atmosphere: F. It’s almost certainly because I’ve managed to see Kent State in years where they combined for three wins. But the Bowling Green fan bus out-numbered the students in the student section. The cheerleaders outnumbered the south stand they were cheering to. There was more music played over the PA system than from the band. Most of the noise is conversation.
Tailgating: D-. Although there’s lots of real estate for tailgating, not much of it happens pregame around the stadium. That’s the fault of a pair of things, I think: For one, Dix Stadium isn’t a reasonable walk from Kent State’s campus. So, students instead stay back and head to a locally-famous bar scene. Second, the stadium parking lot also doubles as a student lot. Hundreds of cars flood the spaces and many of them aren’t fans’.
Fans: D. The vast majority of fans at this game were family of the players. You could pick out the season-ticket holders and those who live nearby who have been loyal Kent State fans for decades. You would also reasonably count them in a few minutes.
Extracurriculars: B. Kent itself is one of the better college towns in the MAC. It has a really great bar scene – one that even attracts the general populous from the Akron area – and plenty of restaurants. Akron itself is a hidden rust belt gem that those who aren’t directly from there (not even Cleveland, in some cases!) know about. It’s packed with local breweries and food joints.